Hygienist Shortage: What Do They Want and Why Did They Leave?


As we are all aware, the COVID pandemic affected a lot of industries. Dentistry was not spared. Practiced had to think outside the box and come up with better compensation packages and strategies to attract and bring hygienists back into the field. Just like nurses, hygienists are at very high risk for contacting this virus.

There is also the factor of “job burn-out.” Practices are having to compete with other practices in the same situation. Dentists are having to step into hygiene roles, which puts a lot more burden on dentists that already have heavy schedules. Offering higher compensation, benefits, and bonuses. I have even seen high sign on bonuses, which used to be solely to attract dentists.

I work with practices all of the U.S, small private, group practices to large DSO. The main issue I see is can the practice sustain these compensation demands. I also hear hygienists say that have been underpaid and overworked for a while. I can sympathize with both sides.

I feel the solution must be a compromise on both parts. Practices have to revamp the way they are doing hygiene so they can accommodate these higher compensation demands without overworking the hygienists to a burn-out. Maybe practices can consider better days and hours. Book hygiene 4 days a week on a 10-hour day or develop obtainable incentives and bonuses to help them achieve their earning goals. Profit sharing is a great incentive. They get a piece of pie at the end of the year. I have even seen practices offering similar compensation to how they structure dentists. Daily guarantee or percentages, which ever is greater. They need to feel appreciated and motivated.  Hygiene takes a toll on your neck and back, not to mention the emotional demands of the job. Dealing with sometimes anxious and difficult patients is emotionally draining which causes hygienists to become burnt out. Maybe create a trip away from the office with your team to help break up the daily grinds of dentistry. This helps with more of a closer bond with the owner and team.  Creating a positive upbeat environment also makes a much happier employee, less likely to go out and chase higher pay. Remember the hygienist is usually the first person your patients will see. A positive visit will not only keep that patient coming back but also higher referral rate.

Hygienists have to take into consideration other factors including: practice platform, teams, work life balance, location and “will I be happy working there?”. Sometimes the extra dollar will not send you home happily every day.  Help practice grow to get you where you need to be Help create incentive packages. Find the practice that will help you feel at home. Compensation is important for your efforts and contribution to the practice but considering all your other requirements outside of the compensation you are looking for, should play a part in your decision.

On a positive note. I am seeing the hygienists coming back. Slowly, but they are coming back. It is still competitive, but I am seeing more calmness and openness to more negotiations.

You need the hygienist, and the hygienist needs you, so meet somewhere in the middle. Even unions can come to comprise.

A happy owner and employee make a productive practice and higher retention of employee.

Just my take on this.

This month’s Inspirational Quote.

You cannot keep looking back.

Put the past behind you and find something.

Better in your future.

Judy 😊

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