Career Satisfaction in Dental Hygiene: Room to grow?

Sports writers often equate a star athlete's request for respect and more involvement as a team leader to the familiar refrain, "Show me the money!" in saying there's little difference between the two.

Feb 19th, 2015
Satisfactioninside
More than 70% of hygienists who graduated from dental hygiene school before 2010 said they do not feel like there is room for career growth in their current position.

Sports writers often equate a star athlete's request for respect and more involvement as a team leader to the familiar refrain, "Show me the money!" in saying there's little difference between the two. A lucrative contract for the athlete merely reinforces athletic prowess and leadership, in other words.

Are dental hygienists really that different?

The second part of the RDH eVillage Career Satisfaction survey focuses on objectives for career growth, centering on the question: What type of advancement or career growth do you desire?

Is it easier to understand by just borrowing the famous line from Jerry Maguire? "Show me the money!"

View Part 1 of the Career Satisfaction Survey

Four options were given as answers to the survey question, allowing hygienists to choose all that apply:

  • 75% desired more income as part of career growth
  • 66% desired better job benefits
  • 31% desired more latitude to accomplish current responsibilities
  • 25% desired additional responsibilities

Readers were invited to submit in writing other areas of career growth too. Much of the rest of this article explores a generational view of what dental hygienists seek in terms of career satisfaction.

For obvious reasons, this article wants to point out that income and benefits are still very important to dental hygienists who want more satisfaction out of their careers.

Another question in the survey asked: Do you feel like there is room for professional advancement or career growth in your current employment situation? More than 70% of hygienists who graduated from dental hygiene school before 2010 said they do not feel like there is room for career growth in their current position. In contrast, 55% of dental hygienists who have graduated after 2010 felt the same way, suggesting a large minority of recent graduates remain optimistic about the future direction of their careers.

However, a ceiling in career growth does not mean dental hygienists feel underemployed at their current job. Only 33% feel underemployed while 58% do not (9% were uncertain).

Dorothy Garlough, the author of the "Crafting Connections" column in RDH magazine, offered this insight about the survey results: "The point of needing more challenges is about shifting the scope of practice for hygienists. Protectionist views of dentists along with lobbying make this a slow process for the clinical hygienist.

"Hygienists today are recognizing that more education is necessary for advancement in their careers and are pursuing this. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means or access to more education. The progressive dentist will recognize the potential of talented hygienists and look at utilizing their untapped skills in creative arenas within the office. This will not only increase the hygienist's engagement but be a win-win for the office."

The survey asked dental hygienists to indicate in what decade they graduated from dental hygiene school. So a collection of responses from each decade can be viewed at the links below.

In regard to the frequent mentions of better income or benefits, Garlough commented, "Another observation of the poll shows an increasing desire for higher wages in each decade. In my view, this is related to both the increase in the cost of living and those older generations are set, with mortgages paid and children grown. Traditionalist and baby boomer hygienists have known that they needed to save for retirement and, although some of those graduating in the 1970s have expressed a desire for pensions, they realize that there would be little payback at this point."

Click here to view the comments from dental hygienists who graduated in the 1970s. Many responses do indicate an awareness of impending retirement.

But not entirely. Garlough said, "Baby boomers are still driven to rise to the top of their career. They want to be self-actualized by being leaders of the team and want to offer input on how to grow the practice. Although retirement thoughts are seeding in their minds, they still want to advance in their education and scope of practice. Baby boomers will work longer than traditionalists because life expectancy is increasing, they are healthy, and they want to be a contributing member of society."

Click here to view comments from hygienists graduating in the 1980s and 1990s. Many responses suggest a desire to try a different aspect of a dental hygiene career or current working conditions.

Garlough said, "Generation Xers want opportunity, variety, and challenges in their career. They want leadership roles. They will be in the workforce for many years, and are seeking a work/life balance through higher income and benefits along with vacations and more flexibility. They see themselves as more a partner in the practice and want more autonomy."

Click here to view comments from hygienists who have graduated after 2000. Many responses focus on specific areas of compensation, particularly job benefits, or job security in general.

Garlough said, "Millennials in hygiene want jobs, which are in short supply in dentistry, with high pay, benefits, and opportunity. At this time, it is a tough time for new graduates but as the baby boomers begin to retire, there will be opportunities. This generation will offer a new clinical and nonclinical view when they are fully integrated into an office, for they are tech savvy, fresh with ideas, like to collaborate, and care about the future. Dentistry's challenge will be to tap into the Millennials and keep them engaged."

Garlough offered additional comments from this section of the survey: "The dental profession could greatly benefit from being open to the possibility of expanding the duties of hygienists. Could the progressive dental office of the future have a different model for hygienists … perhaps a designation for treating the needs of the rising number of diabetic patients or the increasing demographics of the aging baby boomers?

"What about a designation for someone who specialized in treating those with mental health issues? Having a hygienist on staff who understands the oral manifestations and medications along with the side effects would be advantageous to any practice. It is conceivable that patients with these conditions will seek dental practices with staff certified in specific areas. The comfort gained from being cared for by a clinically certified staff member on their particular condition will raise the delivery of care, status, loyalty, and profitability."

Upcoming reports for the career satisfaction survey will examine working relationships with managers and stress levels encountered in the workplace.

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