Crappy employers and crabby patients aside, do you really love what it is you do? If yes, continue reading. If not, none of the rest of this will matter much.
Like other professional careers, you have to love dental hygiene to want to make the most of it for yourself, your patients that you love, and the bosses you work for.
Here are seven habits to make your dental hygiene career not only better for you, but better for others.
Have a Plan
Reverse engineer or map out where you want to be professionally in 5, 10, 20, and even 30 years from now. I’m not to talking about a list of “I want to be successful” or “I want to be happy” type statements.
While those are nice, you need to get as specific as you can – such as “I want to be working for All Smiles Dental for the next five years, then pivot into working at the dental hygiene program at State College for 10 years to extend my career in the event I develop back or neck problems.”
Spell it all out in detail. But be sure to include the “why” or purpose behind these moves. And they need not be all about specific jobs you want to have, they can and should also include additional skill sets and other accomplishments or goals.
This plan is a living document and you should update and add to it on an annual basis (if not more) to keep it fresh in your mind so you can focus on making it a reality.
Build A List of Key Offices
Create and keep a list of specific offices you are aware of that interest you or that you know for sure you would like to work for.
Life happens – great employees get laid off or fired from time to time. You could even work for an employer who suddenly (without warning) has to close their business down for medical or financial reasons.
Along with building a list of offices, do what you can to insert yourself into their world. Occasionally offering to temp for them would be a great move. Or possibly just make an effort to meet and get to know them in other settings. Ask if you can come shadow them for a few hours to get an idea of how they do things.
The point is insert yourself and then build and maintain the relationships (also called networking).
Always be Learning
If all you are doing is the basic requirements of CE to maintain your license, take it up a notch. Try taking an additional class in an area of dental hygiene that really interests you.
Do some self-directed research or study into a new topic every year (or more often), where you really dive deep into the subject to the point of becoming a mini-expert or one who knows more than 95% of other hygienists out there.
In general, organize this effort by laying out a plan for it. By month or even year, start listing topics of things you want to be more knowledgeable of and then start gathering all the sources for that information you can find.
If you want to take it a step further, write about it and share your expertise with others. There are lots of trade publications in dental hygiene who love to receive articles and will publish them.
Keep Your Job Hunting Materials Current
Again, you never know when you are going to suddenly be thrust into the job market. If you resume, cover letter, testimonial sheet, and LinkedIn profile are locked and loaded you’ll be ready to go.
Here’s two tips to helping you keep your materials current.
First, throughout the year keep a file (physical, electronic, or both) where you gather new accomplishments, advancements, education, testimonials, etc. you pick up pertaining to your career now and/or what you plan to transition to in the future. Let’s say you want to at some point to transition into a sales job in the dental industry. Start saving and documenting successes you have had in building relationships of trust and motivating people to change or buy into what you are selling.
Second, establish one time during the year where you audit and update your information and materials. Obviously, the beginning or end of the year is a great time to do it, but don’t let that stop you from starting now. It’s still early in the year and you can establish the routine later, once you’ve got everything current.
Leverage a Failure
Everyone makes mistakes in their career. Let me repeat that: EVERYONE makes mistakes in their career. It isn’t important or significant in any way that you stumble – handle something poorly, fail to meet expectations, or just flat out suck on occasion.
What is important is what you gain from that. Let me repeat that too: What you GAIN from it. There is always something to be gained from failure. Too often, we get stuck in feeling embarrassed, ashamed, try to hide, or flat out wallow in getting down on ourselves.
I think those are okay emotions to feel when you mess up, but you shouldn’t stay their long. Use them to motivate you to pull yourself up, do some self-analysis, and then figure out how to improve.
Believe it or not, and I am speaking from many personal experiences, you will gain more career-wise (and in many other ways, too) from that struggle to overcome a failure or challenge. Don’t run from them or try to mask them – take them on and you will become a better dental hygienist for your patients and your employer.
And, great career hygienists don’t shy away from telling that story. Everyone loves a good comeback story! So don’t be ashamed of it – use it to demonstrate your resilience and that you are a fighter in future interview settings and other places where people can benefit and be inspired by it.
Identify Your Brand
You have a personal brand – often, it’s what people say about you when you are not around to hear it. A personal brand is honest and authentic.
There are some personal brands that are broken. Do people say you are apathetic or lazy, or that you lack passion? If you feel that may be the case then change it. Show them the opposite behavior so that when people talk about you the conversation is different.
A personal brand also has to do with the set of attributes that make you different or unique. Discover what those are and if you like them or feel they are of benefit to your employer then own them. If there’s something you are lacking or not as strong in then make it stronger and include it with the others.
Once you know what your personal brand is and can own it, then include that language in your job hunting and other career materials. One bonus is that if you can get others, in the form of testimonials, to also identify those same attributes on your behalf then you have a very compelling personal brand to showcase.
Start a New Hobby
What does a hobby have to do with dental hygiene? More than you would think, actually.
Successful professionals have interesting hobbies and those hobbies are a great diversion from your work – you need that! As much as you love dental hygiene, your mind needs a break from it to rest and re-charge.
I would recommend something that fully engages your mind into a different direction – not just television or some other medium, but rather some type of physical activity. Most hygienists are cooped up in small quarters for eight to 10 hours a day doing the same thing over and over.
Get yourself into a hobby that takes you to more open spaces, doing things that are more spontaneous. Not only will you look forward to doing your hobby, but you will be a much better hygienist for having taken that break to rejuvenate.
Successful dental hygienists take a lot of measured and intentional steps to become great. It’s not something you are born with or have handed to you. Take charge of this career you have invested so much in and make dental hygiene a better industry for your part in it and you will never have trouble landing a great dental hygiene job.