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Dental hygiene: Happiness is a full-time or part-time job

June 6, 2018
RDH eVillage explores the benefits of working part-time and full-time in dental hygiene, and happiness is part of the equation.

The flexibility of employment within the dental hygiene profession remains one of the career’s most important features, regardless of whether dental hygienists seek part-time or full-time careers, according to an informal survey of 1,157 dental hygienists conducted by RDH eVillage.

Overall, our respondents were largely happy with their employment circumstances, and largely happy with their careers.

The profession of dental hygiene has historically been, and remains, a largely female one. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in late 2017, “The percentages of employed women working full-time and part-time have not changed much over the past five decades. Since 1968, the percentage of employed women working full time has always been between approximately 72 percent and 75 percent.”

“Part time is the only way I can physically tolerate the job,” one hygienist said. Another added, “Doctors want part-time hygienists so they don’t have to pay benefits!”

How does dental hygiene currently compare to this trend? In this report, the government defines full-time work as 35 hours or more per week. Of our respondents, 62% worked between 1 and 32 hours a week, and 38% worked 33 hours a week or more. While our categories do not line up exactly with the Bureau of Labor’s, you can see that a large proportion of dental hygienists are working below what the government considers full-time hours. In another report, the Bureau of Labor stated that more than half of dental hygienists worked part time, which is consistent with what our respondents reported.

Most importantly, 68% of respondents said that their current employment situation met their preferences. Of hygienists working between 1 and 32 hours a week, a full 75% said they liked their current situation; of hygienists working 33 hours a week or more, only 53% described their feelings this way.

Throughout its history, dental hygiene has been primarily associated with a full-time career after graduation, a part-time career during raising a family, and then resuming full-time status later in a career. Many dental hygienists still work part-time in 2018, but personal health and employers factor into the reasons for part-time employment.

“Part time is the only way I can physically tolerate the job,” one hygienist said. Another added, “Doctors want part-time hygienists so they don’t have to pay benefits!”

This article introduces our survey results and examines the “happiness” associated with part-time or full-time work schedules as it relates to overall career satisfaction. Upcoming articles will explore other statistics pertaining to full-time vs. part-time employment.

Figure 1 shows the breakdown of the hours hygienists are working:

Perhaps most importantly, regardless of how many hours they work, most hygienists who answered our survey described themselves as “somewhat” or “very” happy (table 1).

The impact of relationships and life circumstances

Although dental hygienists were allowed to identify relationship status seven different ways, 95% of respondents were either married (76%), divorced (8%), single and never married (6%), or cohabiting with significant other (5%).

Does relationship status have any impact on career satisfaction? Interestingly, the responses among groups were largely similar, although respondents who described themselves as divorced were the least likely of any group to describe themselves as somewhat or very happy overall, and the most likely to describe themselves as somewhat or very unhappy overall (table 2).

Additionally, respondents who described themselves as divorced or single were more likely say that the opportunity to work part-time had “never” been significant to them (28% and 31%, respectively) than respondents who described themselves as married (14%).

Generally, married respondents were more likely to be working 32 or fewer hours than other groups. Respondents who described themselves as single, either never married or cohabitating with a significant other, were the most likely to be working 33 hours a week or more.

One question in the survey asked full-time dental hygienists for reasons they could not work part-time as desired. Only 18% of married dental hygienists cited job benefits such as insurance was a “must have” before working part-time; in contrast, 46% of single hygienists living with a significant other said job benefits were necessary before a venture into a part-time schedule could be considered. Married respondents were also less likely to cite living expenses as a reason they were working more hours than desired than some other groups.

Married and single but never married hygienists were also more likely to say said work-life balance (44% and 43%, respectively) was the most important factor influencing their work schedule than some other groups. In contrast, 56% of single hygienists cohabiting with a significant other said “my individual or family financial needs” was the most important factor, and only 36% said work-life balance was a significant factor.

Hygienists describing themselves as unhappy

Of hygienists who described themselves as unhappy, many cited difficultly finding enough hours or occupational pain as factors preventing them from working as many hours as they’d like. Few cited lack of jobs or the needs of dependent family members as the reason for working fewer hours. Comments from unhappy hygienists ranged from “Can’t find a job with benefits,” “Have not found an appropriate employer or work situation,” “Area saturated with hygienists, and doctors do not pay your worth,” and “Jobs are too far or not paying much.”

In future articles, we’ll explore these issues further. Join us again soon!