Is dental hygiene a good career for me?

Going freelance is a big decision. Read how to do it here and decide if it is for you.
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If you’ve been working as an RDH for a while, there’s a good chance the thought of being an independent dental hygienist has crossed your mind at least once. Choosing this career path means you get to continue doing the job you love, while gaining all the liberating freedom of becoming a freelancer. Before you make a rushed decision, it’s important you’re aware of all the additional responsibilities which come with that freedom. 

There are many pros and cons of being a dental hygienist, but what about being an independent dental hygienist? Before you hand in your resignation and leave your current practice for the hopeful promises of the freelance lifestyle, here are eight things to consider to determine if being an independent dental hygienist is right for you. 

Pros of being an independent dental hygienist

Open your own practice

You don’t have to be a dentist to open up your own dental practice. In several states, dental hygienists are permitted to open and operate their own practice. For example in Colorado, a dental hygienist can own a practice and work without any supervision from a dentist. However, in other states, a hygienist is allowed to practice independently, as long as the patient is seen by a dentist every 12-18 months and there is paperwork to prove it.

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As an employee working for someone else, you’re never going to be able to open your practice. But as an independent contractor working in the right state, turning your dream of running your own practice into a reality is relatively straight-forward

Set your own schedule

When you provide your services on a freelance basis, you get to decide how many hours you work and how often you work. This is a huge advantage for people with frequently-changing schedules, because they can increase and decrease their hours as necessary to suit whatever’s currently going on in their lives. As an employee, you’re limited to the schedule which is stated in your contract and if you want to change it, your boss might have other ideas. 

With Cloud Dentistry, dental hygienists are able to advertise their schedules to potential clients and update their availability accordingly. This means that you save yourself (and practice owners) time, by not getting involved in placements which don’t suit your schedule. And when your schedule does change, you can revise your available working hours with just a couple of taps. 

Earn more money

As an employee, the only way to get more money is to ask your boss for a payrise. Not only is this aspect particularly daunting for many, but there’s always the potential to create workplace friction if they turn you down. This simply isn’t the case when you’re working as an independent contractor.

As a freelance dental hygienist, you get to determine your own hourly rate and charge exactly as much as you believe you’re worth. Whenever you go on dental courses or take work-related classes, you can increase your hourly rate to match the value of the new skills you’ve acquired. Logging into your Cloud Dentistry account and changing your hourly rate with a couple of taps is a lot less daunting than asking your boss for more money.

Decide where you work

Dental hygienists who work at a single practice are a lot more restricted than those who practice independently. Maybe you’ve moved house since you first started working at your current practice and now your daily commute is several hours long. Or maybe you’ve been wanting to move into the house of your dreams but you can’t because it’s too far away from work. 

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When you’re a freelance dental hygienist, you don’t have any of these problems — you get to choose the practices you work in. This means if you don’t want to commute more than 30 minutes, you don’t have to. And if you want to move to another city, you can do and look for work in local practices there instead of enduring an excessively lengthy commute. 

Cons of being an independent dental hygienist

Do your own taxes

When you work for someone else, you don’t have to worry about income-related taxes — they’re all taken care of for you by the time you receive your paycheck. But when you’re an independent contractor, paying your income-related taxes is your responsibility. And it can certainly be a hefty one.

Whether you decide to do your taxes yourself or you pay an accountant to do them on your behalf, it’s important your taxes are done accurately and punctually each year to avoid considerable fines and fees.

Unpredictable work volume

As an employee, you know exactly how many hours you’re going to be working each week because it’s in your contract. But as an independent dental hygienist, you can never be sure from one placement to the next how much work you’re going to have or how much money you’re going to earn. This means some weeks you could be taking home a fantastic sum, while other weeks you have literally no work.

Read: why going temp may increase your market value >>

Some independent dental hygienists get around this by working as an employee on a part-time basis and working as an independent contractor on a part-time basis. But if you really want to give up your employee status, another option is to commit to saving a certain percentage of your earnings each week and putting them to one side for when you haven’t got much work. 

No benefits

Being an independent contractor means you don’t get any vacation pay, sick pay or health benefits like a regular employee does. The dental practices you work in don’t owe you anything other than money for your time and services and a safe working environment to practice in.

How to become a dental hygienist >>

However, as a freelance dental hygienist, you should be able to earn more than an RDH or RDA working as an employee in a practice. This means you can put a little bit of money to each side every month and use that to help tide things over when you’re on vacation, sick or need to pay hospital bills.

Few patient-hygienist relationships

When you work at the same dental practice for years, you’re certain to see the same patients again and again. Helping patients regain their confidence by gaining a sparkling white smile and helping them understand the importance of taking care of their teeth and gums is a great way to develop a genuine connection.

As an independent contractor, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever see the same patient more than once. So although you’re still helping patients as an RDH and making a huge difference to people’s lives, you rarely get to see the results of your hard work. This can be balanced out by the joy of working with lots of different patients and helping more people than you would otherwise. But for some RDHs, the loss of patient-hygienist relationships is a real problem.  

Is being an independent dental hygienist right for you?

There’s no definitive answer to this question because everyone’s situation is different. If you want financial stability, the consistency of the same working environment and the benefits of an employee work contract, you might want to reconsider going down the freelancing route.

But if you love working as an RDH and you want to continue doing your job with increased control and freedom, embracing the life of an independent dental hygienist could be an excellent choice for you.

Written By Nicola Quinn