Feeling stuck in the same old daily grind?
Fear not: as a registered dental hygienist, you don't have to spend your entire career doing clinical work.
- You could be a hero for oral health and make a lasting positive impact as a dedicated public health manager.
- Or, maybe you'd rather be a savvy sales rep, schmoozing with other dental professionals and advising them on the latest and greatest dental technology.
- You could even become a dental hygiene professor, inspiring the next generation of hygienists or leading a breakthrough in dental research.
Dental hygienists can discover a world of fulfilling career opportunities outside the four walls of the dental clinic. All you need to do is be proactive, motivated, and open-minded.
Get Out of the Clinic and Advance Your Dental Hygiene Career
Take it from Emily Miller-Lehr, whose illustrious career has taken her from private practice to dental supply sales, to faculty at a dental hygiene school, to public service, and finally to Aspen Dental Management as a relationship manager.
Despite this impressive resume, in a recent piece for Hygienetown, Emily had this to say to dental hygienists like her: “I’m not special.”
Her firsthand experience has led her to believe that any hygienist who's dedicated enough can advance their career with the same leaps and bounds.
“As a dental hygienist who has taken on career changes and challenges headfirst, I’ll be the first to say that any hygienist who’s dedicated to change also can do just that,” she writes.
So, how do you do it? In the same Hygienetown piece, Emily says it boils down to five key things:
- Know your strengths and explore new opportunities
- Keep moving forward, even in the face of setbacks
- Let the world know you’re here to grow
- Go back to school with a set goal in mind
- Know all your options
While every hygienist's path to success will look different, we agree that these tips can put you on the right track!
1. Know Your Strengths and Explore New Opportunities
Start by taking stock of your soft skills.
As a dental hygienist, not only are you good with a scaler, but you're also a good communicator, team player, and flexible problem solver. These skills can take you a long way in just about any job role.
Next, consider your hard skills. These are the ones you learned in dental hygiene school, but they go beyond that. Besides your practical hygiene skills, you may have expertise in specific software or on a specific CE topic.
Finally, think about how you might gain new skills to fill in the gaps. For example, if your clinic needs to work on a recall list, volunteer to lead the effort and document it. You've just learned a skill you can use in the future!
If you’re not being challenged to learn new skills at work, look toward CE courses or the mountain of online courses available on sites like Udemy and LinkedIn Learning. Each new skill opens up a world of possibilities!
2. Keep Moving Forward, Even in the Face of Setbacks
When it comes to career moves, you don't always succeed the first time. Don't give up. Instead, take a look at others who've already made the leap and learn from them.
Whenever you're curious about how someone grew their career, ask them! People love to talk about their accomplishments, and you can learn a lot from their success.
If you don't know anyone with the "dream job" you have in mind, seek out someone who does and connect with them online. LinkedIn and Hygienetown are great places to network with professionals in your field and learn from their career journeys.
3. Let The World Know You’re Here To Grow
If you love your work environment, don’t be afraid to tell your team that you want to expand your role beyond your current hygienist responsibilities.
If your workplace supports your career goals, you will have more opportunities to build your resume in that direction. Plus, your desire to grow and learn will have a positive impact on your practice and current job!
Sadly, not every workplace will be accommodating. That's the way it is. But that doesn’t mean you should keep your ambitions all to yourself.
Be open about your aspirations with friends and colleagues outside of your current workplace. Share your goals and ambitions with others you meet on LinkedIn and similar sites. In these online group settings, you'll often find people willing to help others.
Plus, the next time a role opens up in their organization, they might think of you!
4. Go Back To School
Whatever your career goals may be, a degree, diploma, or certificate program may be an important step toward your future.
In particular, dental hygienists who are considering positions in public health, government, education, or administration are likely to need more education.
However, before you invest in education, make sure it’s really going to help you advance your career goals! Research job postings that are similar to the one you want and ask people with similar roles what level of education is needed.
There are many dental hygiene-related jobs that don't require a separate degree, but may require a good understanding of management, public policy, or specific software programs. Even a simple certificate program might give you the edge you need to land that dream job.
5. Know All Your Options
Dream big! Your career doesn't have to revolve around scaling and cleaning. The dental profession is exploding with career opportunities, especially in dental service organizations (DSO’s).
Think back to Emily Miller-Lehr, who penned the Hygienetown piece that inspired this article. Beside practicing as a hygienist in private practice, she worked as a sales representative, instructor at a dental hygiene school and a community college, and manager of the Maricopa County Office of Oral Health.
The ADEA offers the following as a partial list of career options available to dental hygienists who want to leave the clinic:
- In the corporate world: pharmaceutical sales, dental supplies sales, dental office manager, corporate educator, dental insurance officer, hospital or nursing home consultant
- In academia: classroom instructor, clinical or didactic instructor, laboratory instructor, educational researcher, dental hygiene program director, dean
- Public health: local or state dental public health officer, community clinic administrator, National Health Service Corps member
When it comes to changing careers, there are many ways you can position yourself to succeed. As you advance in your career, just remember to evaluate, grow, communicate, research, and understand!