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Your new dental career: Finding your people while pursuing your passion

Jan. 13, 2023
Are you the black sheep in your dental career? Nope! Your herd is waiting for you. Here's how one hygienist built a community of like-minded professionals to help fuel her passion.

In life, you can feel out of place for many reasons. When it comes to your career, it can be life-changing to build a community of like-minded professionals to keep your passion alive.

After years of imposter syndrome, going back and forth working at the front desk of small dental practices and trying out different routes like yoga and teaching art in between, I finally bit the bullet and went back to school to become a dental hygienist. I wanted a job that made a difference in the realm of prevention and to be the one caring for patients, but I had convinced myself I couldn’t afford school, that I wasn’t meant to be a clinician anyway with my Bachelor of Fine Arts; after all, I failed math in high school.

However, once I started my prerequisites and passed intermediate algebra, I started to believe. When I picked up instrumentation in clinic, I got the feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Or was I?

I got accepted as the oldest student in my cohort, turning 33 a month before our first semester. I was filled with passion and a thirst to learn as I knew this was going to be my last career conversion. It was my chance to finally do something I was certain I wanted. I attended all the CEs offered to students, joined my local dental hygiene association component, got involved in as many ways as I could, and was already thinking of my future in the profession. How could I help move things forward? The potential made my eyes sparkle, but it seemed that not many of my classmates had that same drive. Was I too much?

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Job hunting disappointments

Once graduation finally came around, I moved to a new state and was eager to meet more seasoned hygienists. It was time to interview for jobs, and I went to six different offices. I usually enjoy the interview process, but I kept being faced with disappointments.

In one office, I did a working interview, which would have been an opportunity for the staff to truly get to know me, but during lunchtime the staff chatted with the dentist in his office with the door closed; they never came to talk to me in the next room. At the end of the day, the dentist still didn’t know my full name and didn’t have time to discuss whether he wanted to offer me the position.

At another office when I was shadowing, the one hygienist who would potentially become my coworker told me that she was severely underpaid, had no lunch break, was burnt out, and didn’t feel respected … but she was still in the practice because she feared going somewhere else would challenge her to grow.

At a third office, the dentist told me that the reason she was paying almost $10 less per hour than the going rate was because hygiene “is crazy right now and it’s my duty to not raise the cost for dentists.”

Feeling like the black sheep

Was I the black sheep for wanting to be valued? Perhaps I had on rose-colored glasses, and hygiene wasn’t really an essential part of a thriving dental practice.

Along the way I was told things like, “Don’t care so much, you’ll burn yourself out,” or “I don’t do anything work related on my time off if I don’t get paid for it,” and “We don’t have time to take blood pressure.”

As a new grad, you are impressionable, and these experiences could easily extinguish your fire. Why should you do more if no one else is? It’s hard to implement change if you feel like you’re alone and speaking to deaf ears.

Finding your herd

Luckily, I found a community of driven, passionate hygienists thanks to social media. There, I met individuals who were involved in public health, who loved their job, and who kept wanting to become better and stay current on new technologies. Many students who wanted to go above and beyond for their patients were also on this platform. Other new grads looking for respect and an opportunity to utilize their full scope of practice discussed how to implement those things, and seasoned hygienists encouraged me to use my voice and become involved.

These people have helped fuel my fire and push me to think beyond my aspirations. Even better, these online friendships have grown into support systems, opportunities, and eager hugs when we finally meet in person at dental events.

So, if you’ve ever asked yourself if you are the black sheep, reach out—your herd is waiting for you!

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Through the Loupes newsletter, a publication of the Endeavor Business Media Dental Group. Read more articles and subscribe to Through the Loupes.