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Katrina M Sanders RDH, BSDH, M.Ed, RF, is a graduate and recipient of countless awards from the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry Division of Dental Hygiene. She is proud to currently serve on the alumni society for one of the most prestigious dental schools in the country. Katrina’s professional career emerged as an educator when she attained full-time employment with a career college in Phoenix, Arizona. A physical manifestation of Katrina’s commitment to her profession is in the development of her textbook, "Introduction to the Dental Hygiene Profession." Katrina proudly received her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership with distinction through Northern Arizona University as a Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society distinguished member. Currently, Katrina is a distinguished speaker with Dental Hygiene Culture as she lectures nationally in a variety of dental hygiene continuing education content.
At last, it’s here! The countdown is over, you’ve rocked your boards, and you’re still deciding if you really want to hang onto your hygiene textbooks. You cross the stage in your cap and gown, recite the hygiene oath and proudly don your hygiene pin. With grace and finesse, you’re ready to begin the next chapter of your life as a brand-new dental hygiene graduate.
Before you sits a gorgeous world of opportunity, a fresh start and a path to success. To your left and right you see your classmates, now colleagues, equally bright eyed and bushy tailed, as you embark on this new journey together as registered dental hygienists.
I fondly remember the first few months of my hygiene career following graduation. Quite frankly, it still feels like I graduated just yesterday! During those first few months, I navigated my way through squeezing an entire hygiene appointment into one hour, treating patients without my instructor and meeting the new demands of my office.
Throughout my 12 years as a practicing hygienist, I can proudly say that I still have an immense love and passion for dental hygiene. It’s this passion and joy for dental hygiene that keeps me moving through the tough days and excited about the new days. To the new graduates out there, I encourage you to ensure you stay very much in love and passionate about dental hygiene.
This article is my advice to you: five ways to ensure you stay in love and involved in our incredible industry. Enjoy!
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1. Stay connected
In the weeks following dental hygiene school, you’ll experience a unique shift in your world, as you’re likely accustomed to eating, living and breathing dental hygiene with your classmates.
When I graduated, I quickly noticed how much I missed being around my dental hygiene friends. I missed seeing them every morning, enjoying lunch with them, grabbing coffee with them-even study sessions with them. In turn, I found that as a professional, my operatory felt isolating. While I clearly knew what I needed to do, I still felt odd treating patients without getting “checks” from my faculty. While I didn’t have my classmates and instructors to collaborate with on a daily basis, I recognized that there were plenty of opportunities to stay connected to my colleagues.
The best way to remain connected to professional colleagues is to ensure you continue to be an active member in your state and local components. They routinely have annual and/or monthly or quarterly meetings in which dental hygienists from the area are able to collaborate and connect. One of my favorite ways I’ve seen a dental hygiene association connect is through a weekend continuing education retreat, as arranged by the Central Arizona Dental Hygienists’ Association.
In addition, local specialty offices may also host study clubs in which dental professionals are able to socialize and network while completing continuing education hours.
Finally, many experienced hygienists are happy to mentor newer hygienists who are looking for support in the early stages of their career. Having a mentorship relationship provides the new hygienist with an opportunity to connect and collaborate in a unique way.
2. Get involved
One thing I really missed about dental hygiene school when I first graduated was the ways in which I was involved. From Give Kids a Smile Day to our Community Oral Health project to all of the various clinical rotations in between, I recognized that I truly loved being involved in the community while stretching and expanding my clinical skills.
Luckily, there are several opportunities available for dental professionals to get involved in our industry.
State and local associations are always looking for dental hygienists who wish to be involved through elected positions or volunteer opportunities. This is a great way to use creative, leadership or organizational skills while serving the dental hygiene industry.
In addition, community dental programs are frequently looking for dental hygienists who wish to work in unique dental settings such as a mobile dental unit, a senior living facility, or a community school, to name a few.
Finally, there are several opportunities to volunteer and serve the local or foreign communities. Programs such as Mission of Mercy or volunteer organizations such as the Flying Samaritans provide dental professionals with the venue and tools to be able to deliver humanitarian and philanthropic work with their clinical skills.
3. Be curious
While dental hygiene school does a beautiful job of preparing new hygienists for the clinical work they step into, there are so many other unique facets to the dental hygiene profession that are available to the curious hygienist.
Continuing education coursework provides a wealth of knowledge in emerging technologies and advanced procedures in our industry. It delivers didactic and clinical knowledge by industry leaders who set out to inspire and empower dental professionals to raise their standards and meet the growing demands of our patient population.
Additional certifications such as local anesthesia or laser therapy certifications provide greater opportunities within the operatory. In addition, many hygienists have explored the Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy certification, which provides unique skills in additional treatment modalities.
Finally, seeking advanced education through a bachelor’s degree or graduate studies provides the dental hygienist with the ability to work in other facets of dentistry such as sales, education and leadership, to name a few.
Dental hygienists have an incredibly futuristic mindset, so it’s important that we arm ourselves with the credentials and training to help us collaboratively elevate our industry.
4. Invest in yourself
I heard a really great quote the other day: “If you won’t invest in yourself, why should others invest in you?”
It posed an interesting argument about the importance of ensuring you place value in the things that will ultimately help you to grow and succeed.
This could be investing in a new loupe light or purchasing equipment in your office to improve ergonomics. Many hygienists value chiropractor or massage therapy appointments as a means of self-preservation. In addition, many find value in working with a life coach or enjoying small indulgences such as a car detail service or wine subscription service.
Put simply, investing in yourself could mean focusing on self-care habits such as the occasional pedicure, a gym membership, or a day for rest and relaxation. Remember Maslow? It’s imperative that you work to ensure you’re taking care of yourself so that you can appropriately take care of others.
5. Know your ‘why’
The greatest piece of advice I can possibly provide to a new dental hygienist is to know your ‘why.’ Know why dental hygiene is important to you and why you committed yourself to this industry.
Knowing your why and connecting it to your practice philosophy is imperative to providing patient care that feels right for you. It’s important that at the conclusion of your day, you know in your heart you provided the utmost in ethical and kind care to your patients.
Stay true to you, do what’s right and know your why.
To the graduating class of 2019, on behalf of myself, Dental Product Reports and my colleagues, welcome to the industry! I think you’ll find dental hygiene is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying career that provides both unique challenges and immense fulfillment.
I hope you continue to stay as passionate and engaged in the industry as you have been, and I hope you find unique ways to stay challenged and inspired as you grow into your own as a professional dental hygienist.
From the bottom of my heart: congratulations and I wish you all the best!