It’s no secret the dental hygiene job market is saturated. So staying employable throughout your career will help you maintain industry relevance among employers.
Your relevancy to the industry in the years ahead will require a mix of passion, curiosity, mingled with a mindset and determination to push yourself. That means improving your marketable skills in areas of technique and technology, but also in areas of general industry knowledge and communication savvy.
All of that has a direct bearing on your ability to sell yourself to new offices and your growing network of peers. Never before has the demand for flexibility and growth as a professional been so important. Technology and information is changing and being distributed at increasingly faster rates. This isn’t meant to scare you – you just need to think differently than in the past about managing your career as a dental hygienist.
Here are five steps to taking control and owning your career so as to remain relevant to employers:
Follow the Trends
Notice I didn’t say “join” the trends. It’s way more important to follow the trends so you can decide which ones to join or dismiss. Some industry trends are fleeting and not worth your time, but the only way you will know which ones are valuable or not is if you are following all of them so that you have context.
Outside the dental hygiene world, I am going to take stab that if you were to get into the Pokemon craze of recent weeks/months, you might think you are getting into the latest big thing. You would be wrong. According to a Washington Post article from August 25, the app is starting to see a big decline. So getting in on the latest “thing” isn’t always all that necessary.
To that end, what are dental hygiene’s biggest trends right now? What are people predicting in the next couple of years? How about 10 years from now? Who are the key innovators? If you don’t know any of this, you really owe it to your career to jump in and start paying attention.
Own Your Education
Everyone is required to do CE, right? But what are you doing with that CE? Are you seeking out meaningful CE or just completing hours to keep your license. Those who really want to advance their career will go above and beyond. Sure, not everyone can afford to go to every conference much less take that time off. Here again, your education requires a set of standards that you establish.
Figure out what you can do with the time and resources you have then make the absolute most of it that you can. And, that includes training you don’t get credit for – articles, videos, and other media are all available in great quantities online. And they often only require minutes of your time. My friends over at HygieneEdge are always putting out short how-to videos that you might find helpful. Andrew Johnston and Michelle Strange have been running for almost a year now on an amazing podcast – A Tale of Two Hygienists (check them out in you iTunes store).
Join the Conversation
There are hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn group pages out there where you can carry on active and productive discussions about all things dental hygiene. These are not only great places to get information, they offer you opportunities to network virtually with your peers. Most of them you will probably never meet in person, but some you could and some of the more localized groups offer you the advantage of combining that virtual convenience with some real-time meet-up opportunities.
So, join, and most importantly participate – give your take on things. That creates a win for everyone!
Don’t Get Stuck in Your Generation
It’s easy to assume you don’t have anything in common with your peers who are much older (or much younger). A huge part of our abilities and skills as professionals comes with practice (advantage older generation), that’s obvious! But there are also tangible benefits to energy and flexibility (advantage newer generation).
With many years of practice and repetition, there’s very little you haven’t experienced – younger generations can and should learn from that. But older generations of hygienists can benefit from the enthusiasm and ability to quickly grasp new technology that younger generations have.
When we get stuck or overly-reliant on strengths of our current generation and don’t look to what we can learn from our counterparts who are either younger or older, we are missing some things that can make us really valuable to both patients and employers.
So make make friends with your peers from every age group – you really need that balance and perspective for the big picture of your career.
Make Career Relevance a Priority
This kind of encompasses everything I’ve already mentioned, but it really does take a shift in attitude to not get caught up in the day-to-day routine of dental hygiene. It’s so important you invest extra time in your career, managing it, planning it, setting goals, forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and in general stretching yourself.
One of the biggest things preventing most people from taking the steps to remain relevant is the feeling that there isn’t enough time. So it’s really important to chart it out and take small, steady steps. You don’t have to win the race – others can compete for being first or second or whatever! Slow, steady progress is more than adequate to staying relevant.
It’s just like brushing and flossing – the patient who becomes an incredible at both two or three days before their exam is still going to have cavities and bleeding gums. But by chipping away at it consistently and for just five minutes each day will make all the difference needed.
If it’s not your passion, none of any of this article will make sense to you. But most of you got into dental hygiene because you loved it and were stimulated by the challenge it gave you. All I am proposing is that if you want to keep that love for this industry alive you have to set and keep it as a priority – a personal mission. Standing still is not progress – you are either moving forward or backward.
And, unfortunately, as relevance slips away, you become less employable in an already very competitive market and that makes it hard to land a great dental hygiene job.