Why don’t dental hygienists value professional involvement?
Amy Ericks, RDH, understands why some dental hygienists don't find professional involvement in state and national associations important, because she once felt the same. Many things changed her view, but she wonders now—so many hygienists are dissatisfied and love to complain about the profession, but are not involved in moving it forward at all. Why not? Why don't we value what the associations mean?
"Instead [dissatisfied hygienists] remain silent in their ops, complaining about their situations, but many do nothing to initiate the change that they want to see. They are expecting those of us that are members to fight our fight and their fight."
I have to share with you all the amazing, exciting, and exhausting time I had recently at the South Dakota Dental Hygienists’ Association Annual Session. For those of you who have been involved with arranging an event like that, you know why I say exhausting!
I am excited to say we had a great turnout of many fantastic hygienists dedicated to furthering their professional knowledge. Our speakers were amazing! Tricia Osuna and Angie Stone brought with them fantastic information, motivation, and encouragement. I will carry bits of their presentations with me for the rest of my career, and likely beyond that. On another exciting note, I was also installed as the president of the South Dakota Dental Hygienists’ Association. I am excited to be a part of the team that leads our state association, and I know that we will make our best effort to pursue opportunities.
My experience being involved with the ADHA at the state level has been educational, inspirational, and eye opening. I’ll be completely honest, there was a period of time that I did not carry a membership. I graduated in 2010; my new grad membership carried me through the year and I never renewed or transitioned that into the professional membership. My only reason that I can give is that I did not put enough value on my profession to help protect it.
I think that I was also shortsighted in thinking that I would spend my entire professional career as a dental hygienist in a clinical operatory. I put my dental hygiene profession inside a box, a clinical box, and truly believed that there was nothing for me outside of that box. Looking back, I am disappointed in myself that I would restrict my potential in that way.
I can’t go back, and I choose not to dwell on that point—however I want to be transparent in my involvement. I do also understand certain circumstances limit our abilities to be fully active in the ADHA. Today, I make it a priority, I will again renew my membership gladly. I consider it an expense that is necessary for me to continue to provide care.
We all have professional expenses every year, and the amount varies by state. For me, I budget for these specific expenses: state licensing fee (including local anesthetic and administration of nitrous oxide, both of which are additional fees), liability insurance, and ADHA membership. If I wanted to take that farther, I could include in that budget all of those things that I do throughout the year to keep my mind and body sharp and healthy, such as my monthly gym membership, chiropractic care, massage expenses, scrubs, loupes, coffee, continuing education, and so on. How many of us spend hundreds of dollars on those other items but don’t consider the value of an ADHA membership? Is it just because we don’t think we see it every day we work?
I thank my state and national association every time I administer local anesthetic, every day that I go to work in the nursing home, every time I can work a day without my DDS in the office. These are some of the changes that the state of South Dakota has seen over time, and without the backing and hard work of the volunteers of the association, they may not have happened. Actually, all of those things were fought for and changed before I even graduated, passed my boards, and for a license. I came into this profession already reaping the benefits of the hard work of those volunteers and the ADHA and SDDHA. They worked hard—for me!
Now, some of us have full intentions of practicing clinically for our entire careers, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some of us are already tired of the daily grind of dental hygiene. Some of us are frustrated with working conditions and workplace drama. I follow many dental-related Facebook groups where I see so many hygienists expressing their frustrations, and it seems that the majority of them want to just move away from dental hygiene altogether. Many look toward nursing school as an option, some devote time and money in working an MLM side hustle. Some complain that the ADHA and their state associations are not working hard enough to change these areas that create the frustrations.
Many of these hygienists are not members of their state association. They are not working toward a collective goal alongside other hygienists who are seeking to change these things. Instead they remain silent in their ops, complaining about their situations, but many do nothing to initiate the change that they want to see. They are expecting those of us that are members to fight our fight and their fight.
I am only one person. I have three part-time clinical jobs, I work in a nursing home under a collaborative supervision model, I have a husband, I have two children, I have a household to manage, I have friends and family, and I find time to volunteer for my association. It can be done in little or large bits of time. I would be surprised if a anyone reached out to a state association and offered it five to ten minutes his or her time, that they couldn’t find something for him or her to do. In fact, I challenge you all to seek out some level of involvement with your state association, commit to the membership, and know that you will get out of it what you put in to it. I would be willing to bet that you will come away with an experience, an opportunity, an insight that is far more valuable that the dollars you paid into the membership. I know you would have to work hard to be involved and not find the value.
After 6 years of full-time clinical practice, Amy Ericks, RDH, BSDH, decided to pursue a journey to bring dental hygiene services to a long-term care facility. This often-neglected population has been on her mind for some time, and she is humbled to be able to be making a difference in their care. Here she walks us through her journey as she navigates this exciting new career path, stumbling blocks and all. She is also currently the president-elect of the South Dakota Dental Hygiene Association and is hopeful and encouraged about the impact she may have within her state.