Life As a Freelance Hygienist


How platforms like onDiem make it easy for hygienists to take control of their schedules and work more flexible hours.

A dental hygienist smiles happily as the dentist checks the patient

By Tyler Olson /

These days, hygienists are looking for more flexibility in their schedules. Instead of working traditional full-time hours, they want to have the option to come in just 1 or 2 days a week, or only take Saturday shifts. Freelancing offers that freedom and is an attractive option more hygienists are considering.

For some, they’re looking for flexibility because they want to spend more time with their families. Others decided to pursue a different career path during the COVID-19 pandemic, but still want to be involved with dental hygiene.

Whatever the reason, if you’re among the hygienists ready to go freelance, it’s important to find a platform that can connect you with dental practices that need your help. And right now, with many hygienists opting not to come back after the COVID-19 closures, there are plenty of these practices.

The question is, what’s the best way to find them? That’s where a company like onDiem comes into play. The national, on-demand scheduling platform connects dental hygienists searching for freelance work with practices that have openings, whether they’re looking for someone to fill in for a single shift, an entire maternity leave, or are interested in eventually bringing someone on full time.

Through this platform, you can set your own schedule and hourly rate, but the benefits go beyond that. As an onDiem employee, you also have access to benefits most traditional temp agencies don’t offer, including healthcare, paid time off, malpractice insurance, and employer-paid taxes.

We recently spoke with 2 hygienists who use onDiem about the benefits of going freelance, the process of onboarding with a platform like onDiem, and advice they have for others considering taking the same route. Here’s what they had to say:

Patty Farmer, RDH, Chicago

After working full-time in a practice for 17 years, Patty Farmer was ready for a change. She loved her patient base and the team she worked with, but she needed more flexibility in her schedule. As a mother of 3, she no longer wanted to miss out on events like school plays, teacher conferences, and softball games. That’s why she made the decision to go freelance.

Farmer began working directly with onDiem about 3 years ago, she says, and first heard about the platform through a Facebook group she was moderating. The company started advertising in the group, and the more she saw it the more she thought it might be right for her.

Of course, she was hesitant to go full-time freelance at first. The thought of temping in practices where she didn’t know the patient base, the protocols or where everything was stored was a little intimidating. She jumped in anyway, and once she started she found the full-time team members were happy to get her up to speed. Most are short-staffed and grateful for the help.

Now, she has complete control over her schedule. If she wants to go on vacation, she doesn’t sign up for shifts during that week. If she wants to take on more hours she can, while working around her kids’ schedule at the same time. It’s pretty much all up to her, and she loves the freedom that provides.

One of the other benefits of working with onDiem, Farmer says, is the fact the company offers insurance policies for the entire family.

“I needed both the insurance and the flexibility,” Farmer says. “I love what onDiem is doing for me on a professional level. A lot of offices only hire hygienists part time, so you don’t even get the option of benefits. With this platform, I can work part time on the days I want and still get paid time off and access to insurance.”

How it works

The onDiem app sends text messages to Farmer’s phone when a job opportunity opens up within a certain radius, she says. She can click the link to find out more and if she’s interested and available, she can simply hit the button to apply for the position.

Her request then goes directly to the office. If it’s a good match and they want to work with her, too, they just hit a button to schedule her, opening up the channels of communication. From there, she can ask questions about anything she might need to know for the day and the office can ask her more about her skillset. The office also gets access to her profile, which she described as a digital resume (it’s critical to fill this out completely and keep it updated if you want to get more work, Farmer says).

Before her shift, the customer service team sends a reminder to confirm if she’s still available. Farmer submits her timesheet to onDiem after the shift is over. Once it’s approved by the practice, her check is processed for direct deposit. And because she’s paid by onDiem, she only has to deal with one W-2 form, which makes tax prep a lot simpler.

It’s also easy to search for jobs through the platform, Farmer says. There’s a link attached to her digital profile that she can send to offices looking for coverage, say through Facebook, to let them know they can book her via onDiem, all they have to do is sign up.

“The practice gets to see my resume and what I’m capable of rather than blindly finding somebody on Facebook who said they can come in, and then they have to hope that they actually do,” Farmer says. “These offices have such high demand for hygienists right now that they’re grasping at any way to get somebody to cover, so they might not go through the background check process if they find somebody on Facebook. onDiem does license verification and can run background checks on the hygienists when given permission plus includes malpractice insurance for all providers, so it protects the practices, too.”

Getting signed up is quick and easy, Farmer says, and basically involves filling out paperwork—there’s no extensive interview process. The company verifies your identity and that you have the certifications you say you have. If you get them everything they need quickly, a customer service rep can complete the process in 1 day. You’re able to connect with a practice for a single shift while the paperwork is processing, so you can get started right away.

Taking control of her schedule

Right now, Farmer is only picking up days here and there, maybe a few a month, because she’s busy doing other things—and even with that schedule she’s still accruing vacation days and is eligible for health insurance.

“One of the biggest highlights of the platform is the fact you get paid time off and don’t have to put in X number of hours every week to get it,” Farmer says, noting you have to work 1 day every 6 weeks for the health insurance benefit. “PTO accrues with the number of hours you work. They pay out 1 hour of PTO for every 24 hours of work, so every 3 days you get an hour. You can accumulate those hours and decide when you want to take them.”

For others who are looking for more steady work, Farmer says, there are always postings for longer-term opportunities and some that could even lead to full time, if that’s something that interests you. Some practices post for help immediately while others know a month or 2 in advance they’ll need coverage. So, there are plenty of options no matter what you’re looking for, and often at a higher pay rate than what hygienists working full time are making because demand is so high.

Her advice

When you take a temp job, ask as many questions as you can upfront, such as logistical questions like where to park and practice philosophy questions regarding their approach to care. Every practice does things differently, so the more information you have before you walk through the door, the better. She also suggests packing a bag with all the basics such as water, your face shield, snacks for the day and a change of clothes. You may not need them, but it’s always good to be prepared.

As a freelance hygienist, you’ll work for practices you love and others not as much. When you’re dealing with the latter, just remember it’s only temporary.

“You can do anything for 8 hours, even if it’s the worst situation you can think of. At the end of the day, it’s over and you never have to go back,” she says. “Just try it. You don’t know what you’ll like until you try it, so try not to make assumptions.”

Another career opportunity

Farmer likes onDiem so much she also started working for them internally, which is partly why she’s taking on fewer shifts right now. She helps them grow their database and finds areas that are looking for more dental professionals.

“I know a lot of people in my situation in dentistry who needed flexibility and insurance,” she says. “I feel a certain love for what I do and know what the pain points are that led me to work with onDiem. I want to help professionals who are looking for answers to the same problems I was having.”

Candace Clinkscales, RDH, New York

When Candace Clinkscales, RDH, lived in Switzerland, she earned a degree to teach English as a second language. She didn’t really use the degree when she moved to New York, mainly because the pay just wasn’t as good as it was in Europe. But after the COVID-19 pandemic closed down dental practices last year, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back to dental hygiene full-time. She decided it was time for a career change.

A few years ago, Clinkscales began working with a temp agency in New York to supplement her income with weekend hours (she was working 5 days a week for 2 other offices). With COVID-19 as a concern, she didn’t want to travel around New York City in a subway to different offices anymore, plus she was starting to get a little burnt out on hygiene.

“My plan was to eventually work less in hygiene and more doing something else that’s easier on my body,” she says. “Hygiene was starting to cause aches and pains and of course there was the increased stress of COVID-19. So, I decided to work less in hygiene and a little more in teaching. I was able to do that while I was home during lockdown. I pursued a different career path and made the switch to temp work.”

Now, Clinkscales’ schedule is quite different. She teaches an English as a second language course in the evenings Monday through Friday, works 1 day a week in hygiene at a dental practice, and a few other days taking x-rays for an ortho company.

A different approach

While Clinkscale doesn’t use onDiem to find temp jobs right now, the platform connected her with the gig at the ortho company last fall. She first saw the job on Craigslist, and when she went to apply, she realized she had to do that through onDiem. And the more she learned, the more she liked working with the platform.

“With onDiem, I have health insurance and they give me vacation as long as I accrue enough hours,” she says. “It’s a different approach than any other temp agency I’ve been involved with for hygiene. Usually, it’s more that you call and they’ll place you with an office that needs you. There’s no other benefit than that. That’s why onDiem is a game changer.”

The ortho company she works with posts the jobs they need filled for that month and she can accept or decline. After every shift she takes, she submits her timesheet through the app and then is paid by onDiem. It’s a seamless process, she says, and so far, she’s enjoying the job and the flexibility it provides.

The number of days she takes on varies from month to month, she says, and if she knows she’ll be working less she gives the manager a heads up so they can find someone else to cover through onDiem. She does try to keep a little structure and usually works 2 or 3 days a week.

Clinkscales receives notifications about other jobs through onDiem but hasn’t found anything else she wants to add to her schedule. There’s also the opportunity to work with the ortho company full time, but that isn’t something she wants to pursue right now.

“I’ve decided I’d rather keep my options open and not be locked into 1 position,” she says. “If I want to take off I have the flexibility to do that. So far, this has been amazing for me.”

Other benefits of freelancing

Clinkscales has a lot of experience freelancing and always liked coming in fresh to a new practice. She never took any of the office drama home with her and didn’t have to worry about office politics—and that’s true with the way her schedule is set up today. She also learned something new every time she went to a different practice. She might find a new instrument she likes, for example, or a new way of doing something that makes her more efficient.

And whether you’re using onDiem to find multiple freelance gigs or are interested in more steady work, the insurance and vacation benefits are huge—and based on her experiences with other temp agencies, both were perks she was surprised to learn she’d receive.

“For that alone it’s worth it for hygienists,” she says, “especially if you don’t want to be locked into an office and want to keep your life and your schedule flexible.”

Her advice

If you’re thinking about trying freelancing but aren’t sure it’s the right career move, Clinkscales suggests starting out slow, maybe taking on only a few days a week. That way, you can see if you like it before committing to going full-time freelance.

If it becomes clear you prefer stability, you still may get a benefit from using a platform like onDiem. Many practices turn to the platform for help finding full-time employees as well. They bring you on as a temp, and if it turns out to be a good match, they can hire you full-time down the road.

Of course, if you like the freedom freelancing provides and want to continuing mixing it up, you’ll find plenty of opportunities from offices in your area that need the help.

A happy coincidence

Clinkscales wasn’t looking for a company like onDiem but couldn’t be happier that she found them by accident last fall.

“I didn’t want to do 8 to 5 scraping teeth all day anymore,” she says. “With COVID everyone had to pivot. It made me change direction a little and finding onDiem in the process was a happy coincidence.”

The freelance lifestyle

Demand for hygienists is growing, and that means you don’t have to be locked down into one practice if you don’t want to be. Platforms like onDiem can help you make the switch to freelance, so you can take control of your schedule and enjoy the freedom and flexibility this career path provides.

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