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Thursday Troubleshooter: How much notice should hygienist give dentist about semi-retirement?

Aug. 30, 2018
Due to social security requirements, this dental hygienist cannot work more than one day a week in the dental office she loves. But having the semi-retirement conversation with the dentist is complicated.

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QUESTION: I’ve been a dental hygienist for 10 years for a wonderful doctor. I'm currently working three days a week but I plan to semi-retire to one day a week. We are really strapped for good hygienists in our area due to many people moving to the area. The dentist has been looking for a permanent hygienist for our office to fill a position vacated a few months ago. The recent graduates are passing boards and getting their licenses this fall. I really want the office to have a "perfect fit" hygienist. I want to give the doctor a six-week notice so he has a chance to hire one of these new recruits. However, all of my hygiene friends think the doctor will start looking to replace me as soon as I give my notice and that I should give a two-week notice. This could be uncomfortable as I’d love to stay in this office but will only be able to work one day a week due to social security issues. How much notice would you recommend I give the dentist?

ANSWER FROM DIANNE WATTERSON, RDH, Watterson Speaking and Consulting LLC:
It sounds like you really care about this practice, and it is commendable that you want to give the doctor more than ample time to find a suitable replacement. Just remember that the doctor has to do what is necessary to protect his business. He may not be able to accommodate your desire to work just one day per week.

The big unknown is the available candidate pool. If candidates are scarce, I expect he will allow you to work as you are available. But then again, he might find someone who only wants to work full time. If you know for sure that you’re going to retire, you should be prepared for a variety of possible responses. Unfortunately, one of those might be that the doctor can’t keep you on one day per week. Or, he might be happy to do that. I’ve heard stories about hygienists who gave notice, only to be told that their services were no longer needed. Some employers are actually offended when someone gives notice, so a negative reaction comes unexpectedly to these hygienists.

As for me, I like the truth. If I were in your position, I think I’d have a talk about possibilities with the doctor. Tell him the transition date you have in mind, and ask if there’s an opportunity for you to reduce your schedule to one day per week. He should obviously appreciate your willingness to help him by giving him an early heads up. But remember, if he says he cannot keep you on part time, you should not have any trouble finding temp work if you want to keep working. As a temp, you can have full control over when and where you choose to work. Good luck and enjoy semi-retirement!

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