Late-night study sessions. Lifelong friends. Stress, tears, and anxiety. And, above all, the satisfaction of pouring it all into a hard-earned degree in dental hygiene.
When Kara Vavrosky looks back on her time in hygiene school, those are a few of the things that come to mind.
Most dental hygienists would concur. Dental hygiene school is a rewarding experience, of course – but at times, it’s also a gruelling one.
From the writings of hygienists who’ve been there, here are seven truths about hygiene school to reflect on when you’re feeling the pressure.
1. It Pays to Be Organized
By now, you’ve learned that dental hygiene school isn’t like other post-secondary programs. The coursework is dense, the deadlines come fast, and the practical fieldwork leaves no room to play catch-up.
Put simply, procrastination isn’t an option.
Kara Varovsky, who wrote about her experience in Today’s RDH, admits she spent more time in her first week at hygiene school staring at the books and assignments than sitting down doing them. To keep up, she had to make a concentrated effort to begin tracking and prioritizing homework and exams.
Keeping to-do lists and assignment sheets might just feel like more work at first, but it can save a lot of time and stress in the long run.
“If you’re having a really tough time, take it one day at a time until you can handle taking it week by week,” Kara suggests. “Ask yourself, “What do I have to get done by tomorrow?” It makes everything feel achievable when you break it down and don’t look too far ahead.”
2. Some Stress is Normal
Few registered dental hygienists would deny there were times that hygiene school pushed their limits, especially in the first year.
It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning. But as the weeks and months pass and you gradually find your footing, hygiene school will become far more manageable.
Kimberly Rorstrom-Wittig, a hygienist in Prince George, British Columbia, encourages dental hygiene students to keep looking forward. “Keep focused on your goal and remember that you are all reaching for the same endpoint, to become a dental hygienist.”
However, it’s important not to ignore the toll stress can take on your mind and body. As Jason Skazyk, an RDH in Winnipeg, writes: “One of the things that I encourage each student to do is to look after your physical, mental, and spiritual self. Dental hygiene can be a demanding career physically, and if we do not look after our bodies, all that scaling can begin to take a toll.”
3. Mentors Make Life Easier
Whether it’s a classmate, an upper-level student, an instructor or a graduate, all hygiene students can benefit from the support and advice of a trusted mentor.
Don’t hesitate to ask your colleagues for tips and advice. Even students in the same year as you may have hints and strategies you hadn’t considered.
Heather Britton, who practices in Carleton Place, Ontario, urges hygiene students to look for mentorship opportunities everywhere – even those outside the hygiene profession.
“The dentist can offer you knowledge on procedures that the books can only describe, by showing you the stages of restorations, prosthetics, and extractions,” she writes. “The dental assistant(s) offer a wealth of information on radiographic techniques to open that tough contact, ordering procedures, and lab techniques, to mention a few. The receptionist can also aid in telephone etiquette, computer booking, and filing systems.”
4. Trust Your Instructors
Why do we have to fill out pages of classifications and descriptions for every patient in the clinic?
Why so many competencies, rules and requirements?
Why won’t my instructor just give me a straight answer?
If you’ve spent a few weeks in hygiene school, you’ve probably asked a few these questions yourself.
At times, hygiene school can feel overly strict, repetitive, or just plain confusing. Frustrating as it may be, it’s all designed to prepare you for practice. Your instructors aren’t just there to teach you practical know-how, but to impart professionalism and critical thinking skills. All three are essential to becoming a registered dental hygienist.
Think of it this way: every obscure term you memorize and head-scratching conundrum you solve goes towards making you the best hygienist you can be.
5. You’re Not Alone
“My fondest memories from college days were the camaraderie of all of us,” writes Jan Krawchuk, an RDH in Windsor, Ontario. “We had a class of 20, and many of us would get together for study clubs.”
There are so many benefits to joining a study group in hygiene school. Not only does it get you to study at regular intervals (instead of cramming the night before a test), but to share and discuss what you have learned beyond the level of memorization.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Classmates
School isn’t a race. Everyone develops different skills at different paces and having a slow start doesn’t mean you cannot excel as a dental hygienist.
It is often tempting to compare your progress to that of your classmates. As a recent graduate, Lana MacDonald knows from experience that it’s not a useful exercise.
“My advice to dental hygiene students is not to rush the learning process,” she says. “Don't worry about competing with other students. Work at your own pace and learn everything the ‘right way.’ It will make things easier when you go out into practice even if you may feel behind in school.”
7. Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Whether you choose an accelerated program or a four-year degree, dental hygiene school is a significant part of your life. Take the opportunity to make friends and create memories you’ll look back on fondly.
“Always strive to do the best you are able to do, but remember to enjoy this time in your life,” advises Nancy Mar Hoffos, an RDH in Alberta. “When the opportunity arises to have fun, take it, or when you reflect back, you will have regrets.”