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Why I’m glad I started out as a temp hygienist (and why you should consider it too)

Dec. 19, 2019
Temping is a great way to establish your roots as an aspiring health-care practitioner, especially if you are a new dental hygiene graduate with minimal connections in a competitive market.

Marguerite Maslo, DipDH, BSc, RDH

The year was 2011. After four years of grueling studies, sleepless nights, and clinic hours that seemed to go on forever, I finally made it. I was finally a registered dental hygienist! I wore my RDH badge with pride and even posted it on social media for the whole world to see. There was only one problem. I didn’t have a job in line and the market for hygienists was bleak at best. I couldn’t help but feel envious of my friends who were fortunate enough to be offered a permanent position before they even graduated. This was when I decided that I needed to sign up with a local dental staffing agency.

The process was simple. I reached out to the agency, sent them my resume and practice permits, and waited until I got the phone call for my first temping assignment. Lucky for me, it was the middle of summer and the demand for temporary staff was higher than usual, so I didn’t have to wait long before I got my first call.

My first temping day was frantic. I didn’t drive at the time, so I made sure to arrive at the clinic an hour before my first patient arrived. I memorized all the staff members’ names, reviewed their protocols thoroughly and scaled patients’ teeth as though I had a clinical instructor hovering over my shoulder ready to give me a pass or fail. I did this day after day, week after week, month after month. I must have taken all the possible bus routes in town just to get to a different office the next day!

My dental hygiene friends were curious about my experience as a temping hygienist. I must be honest—it wasn’t easy. I was, admittedly, a bit of a perfectionist and was terrified to make a poor impression at the offices I worked for given that I was still slow and just learning the ropes of real-world, fast-paced dental practice. I also thrived best on routine, so the spontaneity of being on-call and working different hours for different clinics gave me anxiety. I could not plan my schedule in advance. I also struggled to manage my finances given that my income varied widely from month to month. I even worked in offices where tensions ran high among the staff and where I did not share the office’s philosophy on client care, which made working there difficult and dragging.

However, temping also taught me to be open-minded, adaptable, and confident. I learned to use different computer software; familiarized myself with a variety of X-ray units, and manual and ultrasonic instruments; and acquainted myself with a variety of sterilization processors. Temping allowed me to pursue another year of schooling to acquire my bachelor of science degree without committing to a fixed number of days and hours of work. I fostered relationships with some wonderful clinic staff and other dental hygienists who offered mentorship and guidance as I journeyed through my first few years in dental hygiene. Best of all, temping offered me an opportunity to discover what I liked and didn’t like in a dental office. In my case, I realized that I prefer to work in a smaller office where clinicians have more freedom to create personalized, client-centered treatment plans. I also enjoy working with an approachable boss who values strong team communication and prioritizes continuing education opportunities.

Fast forward to 2019, and I now work full-time at a locally owned dental office with a great boss, friendly coworkers, and amazing patients. I do believe that my struggles during my temping days helped me develop into the determined dental hygienist that I am today. As daunting as it may seem, I believe that temping is a great way to establish your roots as an aspiring health-care practitioner, especially if you are a new dental hygiene graduate with minimal connections in a competitive market.

If you’re just finishing dental hygiene school, I wish you the best of luck on your competencies and board exams! If you are a new graduate and are struggling to find a job, I strongly encourage you to give temping a try. Who knows what opportunities lie out there for you?

Marguerite Maslo, DipDH, BSc, RDH, has been a practicing dental hygienist since 2011. She graduated with a bachelor of science (dental hygiene specialization) from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She is also currently a part-time local anesthetic clinical instructor at the University of Alberta. Marguerite’s interests include volunteering, and she most recently traveled to Cotacachi, Ecuador, in 2018 to take part in a dental mission.