The dental hygienist must first investigate his or her desire to remain in a clinical position or to pursue a non-clinical position in dental public health or to have a combination of both; possibilities exist in these three areas. Sometimes dental hygienists choose to continue working in patient treatment, but want to be out of the traditional private practice setting. If that is the case for you, consider what types of patients you would like to treat and where you can find these types of patients. Then, pursue a position with a community health center or specialized care facility. Are you seeing that you are helping people obtain more than a cleaner and healthier mouth, but also helping change lives? Public health is all about changing lives – and this is not unique to public health.
If you think you would prefer to move out of the realm of clinical treatment, you will need to consider what kind of skills you would like to use. Would you like to use your writing skills to prepare newsletters, research proposals or secure funding through grants; or perhaps you are good at organization and would like to create and implement programs? Maybe you would prefer working in a situation where research or other programs are already underway and you would like to oversee projects, rather than develop them. It is important that you develop your job search with a sense of what you would like to do in dental public health.
Do not underestimate the value of role models and mentors. Identify individuals already in a position desirable to you and get acquainted. This acquaintance may grow in to a mentoring relationship. Individuals who enjoy their positions often are happy to share their enthusiasm and advice. Role models and mentors will yield a much greater probability of success in your career search.
Finding or creating a job in dental public health may require some life style changes, the Dental Public Health Career Search flow chart in Appendix A may help you determine what in your life you are willing to change. Some questions include; your willingness to relocate, commute long distances, or return to school. Some decisions may require you possess or obtain funds to invest in a program or business; thus you need to consider your current financial situation. Often dental hygienists choose to leave traditional private practice because of work-related musculoskeletal disorders or burn-out. Some dental public health positions have even more strenuous physical requirements in terms of lifting equipment, treating patients in non-traditional settings and standing for long periods; keep this in mind when you are making decisions about the type of public health position you would like.