Green ‘We are hiring’ note on office desk for dental labor shortage

"Your work will fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle." – Steve Jobs

Is poor job satisfaction the reason for the current dental labor shortage? Have dental professionals reached their breaking point with burnout, job dissatisfaction, and their work-life harmony out of balance? Or is the stress of the current COVID-19 pandemic causing the labor shortage in dentistry? What is causing dental professionals to leave the job they had always loved?

For many dental professionals, the initial closing of dental offices allowed them time to evaluate their happiness and overall work-life harmony. Dental careers are technique-specific, patient-pleasing, and, at times, an underappreciated profession. Every day dental professionals deal with patients that dislike and fear dental procedures, ergonomic stresses, excessive production quotas, and maintaining personal health safety standards. The pandemic added having to work long hours wearing personal protective equipment that is hot and uncomfortable, and new stricter safety standards to maintain. Have the added stresses of the pandemic on top of an already stressful profession caused the dental labor shortage?

RELATED: An Overview of the Labor Shortage in Dentistry (Canada)

Even before the pandemic there was a dental office labor shortage. If a dental professional signed up for any temporary-employment agency, they would quickly be overwhelmed with both long and short-term employment offers. Today, dental offices are trying to recover from lost patient treatment time during 2020. Patients are slowly returning, but the need for dental offices to catch up is a daunting task. The pandemic has exacerbated the labor shortage in dentistry. Dental office recruitment has recently reached an all-time high. This makes it more difficult for dental offices to get their patients seen in a reasonable period. Some offices have even pushed 6 month recalls to 12 months for those not experiencing any dental symptoms.

Are there not enough trained personnel to fill the already heavy-loaded dental office needs? Or is there a shortage of safe, quality, and employee-supportive practices? Due to dental personal labor shortages and the pandemic, existing staff members are currently experiencing pressure to take on more responsibilities. Meanwhile, prospective new hires and temporary staff request unreasonable and unrealistic salaries when compared to pre-pandemic wages. Employers have had to add part-time employees, purchase more personal protective equipment, and increase patient appointment times because of the pandemic. Requests for higher salaries from dental professionals has added to the financial strain. Most smaller offices are unable to financially compete with larger offices that can pay top dollar for valuable dental staff. All this has resulted in increased patient fees to cover the higher operation costs.

Beyond the increased salary requests, dental hygienists have voiced other concerns through professional organization surveys. Results from a dental hygiene survey from Today’s RDH state probable reasons why hygienists have recently left their field that are not related to the increased salary requests.

Top 5 Reasons for the Labor Shortage in Dentistry (Today’s RDH Magazine)
  • Retired early due to the pandemic
  • Did not feel safe working clinically
  • Laid off or fired due to pandemic situation
  • The employer did not provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or a safe working environment
  • Needed to stay home with children

The dental office work environment may need to change to make existing and prospective employees feel appreciated, adequately compensated, and safe while caring for patients and catching up from the Coronavirus pandemic's impact. In the next edition of this labor shortage blog series, we will explore workable solutions to balance office needs and personnel satisfaction. Stay tuned.

References:

Maryanne Ferree RDH, BS, PHDHP

Maryanne holds a Bachelor of Science with a focus in dental hygiene education from the College of General Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and maintains a license as a Public Health Dental Hygiene Practitioner. She has over 35 years of clinical experience. Maryanne is currently clinical faculty in the Department of Periodontics and Preventive Dentistry focusing her clinical teaching on Advanced Periodontal Instrumentation and is finishing her Public Health Master’s thesis on Infection Control in Dental Practices.