By Carolyn Short, RDH,BSDH

RSD Magazine, February 1, 2018 —

“We’re going to have to let you go.”

“We’re moving in a different direction.”

“Your services will not be needed any longer.”

As you gather your personal belongings, usually with someone watching to ensure you don’t steal anything, your heart is pounding and your head is swimming. You’ve just been fired, and you’re not alone. It seems dental hygienists are finding themselves in this situation more often than ever. Most hygienists work with the assumption that doing a good job equals job security.

I’ve spoken with many hygienists who were gobsmacked when they got fired. Their patients loved them, they met their production goals, they built up the hygiene department from nothing, and they had good relationships with their coworkers. They were professional, hardworking, and responsible. The sad truth is that someone can be the best and still get sacked. The reasons are as specific as the individual and his or her workplace.

Does the doctor have staff problems, personal problems, money problems? How many experienced RDHs have been replaced with younger graduates who will work for less money and shorter appointment times? Yes, it’s harsh, but it happens. Dismissal from work ranks in the top 10 list of stressful life events, according to the Holmes and Rahe scale.1


Let’s talk about how to navigate through this gut punch and rise up. Keeping your composure during the “You’re fired” meeting and exit from the building is huge. Your professionalism will be on display more than ever, and you will feel a sense of pride that you handled yourself with grace and dignity. Try not to burn that bridge, even while leaving under difficult circumstances. Once you’re home, in a safe place, it’s time to show emotions (and drink wine or eat chocolate!). Resist the temptation to call your coworker friends and rehash what happened. Doing nothing can be counterintuitive, but you need some time to cope and be mindful. Your grieving will diminish, and a clearer mind will emerge.

When you find yourself back in a problem-solving frame of mind, it’s time to fix the situation. There are several steps you can take to move your professional life forward. First, see if it’s a possibility to keep some income flowing. Determine if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits, and start the process. It can take a few weeks to work its way through the system, so starting sooner rather than later is best.

The sad truth is that someone can be the best and still get sacked. The reasons are as specific as the individual and his or her workplace.

Next, it’s time to dust off that résumé and take a good, hard look. Your résumé needs to be modern and current. A quick Google search will call up examples of what is expected today in a résumé. It needs to reflect that you keep up with the times, which in turn implies that you stay up-to-date with dentistry. If you need to, get professional help to make your résumé shine. It is normally the first impression you make on a potential employer, so make it great.

In addition to an attention-grabbing résumé, every professional should have a modern, sleek business card. These can be made very easily online for a reasonable cost. You can turn the back of the card into a “mini- résumé” that lists vital information—15-plus years clinical experience, proficient in Eaglesoft, Dentrix, Dexis, certified in nitrous oxide and local anesthesia, and more. Keep a stash of these cards with you at all times because you never know when you will meet a contact.


Now check to see what your online presence looks like. A potential employer should not be searching for your LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts; however, it’s wise to be on the safe side. Clean up your profile photos, and untag yourself from inappropriate posts to make sure you look friendly and professional. Some job searchers even change the profile name on their accounts to make them more private. Also, be aware that potential employers can check your state’s database for arrest and court records. This information is public record.

Now that you have your new résumé and business cards and a professional identity online, consider making cold calls to dental offices in your area. Many RDHs have landed jobs using this technique, including me. Attach a few business cards to your résumé, make up some little treat bags with candies, and visit every dental office within a few miles of your home. Let them know that you’re interested in temping, part-time, or full-time work.

Speaking of temping, have you considered contacting your local temp agency? This is a wonderful resource for income and expanding your network. Getting out there and temping will also give you back some of your mojo. It’s a great way to build up your confidence and meet some great doctors and staff members. Who knows? One of these temporary situations might turn into a permanent job! It can even expand your knowledge base. Learning new dental software, being exposed to new equipment and instruments, and learning how different offices manage their day expands your knowledge and help you become more adaptable. All of that will make you a better employee.

What about those ADHA dues you pay every year? Your local component is such a valuable resource when you are unemployed. Attend your local meetings in order to network and develop a sense of community. Your component might even have a person in charge of relaying job openings to members. Make sure you’ve joined your local component’s Facebook page, as members will often post temporary and permanent job openings. Also, work your personal network. Now is the time to reach out to colleagues and apprise them of your situation. Let them know you’re job searching. Former work associates, dental sales reps, practice management consultants, and former teachers and classmates can let you know about job openings.


All of your hard work has paid off and you’ve landed a job interview. How will you answer the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” It’s critical to anticipate this question and have a truthful and confident reply prepared. Even though you were fired, it most likely had nothing to do with you personally. Be confident in that knowledge. Frame your story this way, and do not be overly critical of your employer. An excellent and accurate answer might be, “We weren’t a fit at this time.” Then stop talking after you answer the question. Most interviewers will not press past this response.

If the interviewer does venture beyond, keep your response general. “The office and I were moving in different directions,” for example. Be factual, brief, and move on. Talk about the great attributes you will bring to this new office. In full disclosure, I was once fired from an office in a small town with a close dental community. Everyone knew everyone, which made it even more sensitive. When I faced my interviewer and was asked the dreaded question, I took a breath and said, “Well, my previous employer and I had a bad work divorce.” I left it at that. The interviewer (who became my new boss) leaned back in his chair, gave a little half smile, and moved on.

I have learned that getting fired forces you out of your comfort zone and lights a fire under you. If this traumatic event has happened to you, there are better things in store. That old job wasn’t your place to shine, and being fired was the push you needed to make a change. Remember that it was just one employer’s decision, and there is a better place for you.

You will find that you learned more than you lost. The event will make you more compassionate toward others who lose their jobs. You will recognize a toxic work environment and be cautious before you commit. And it doesn’t seem like it now, but you’ll have more confidence moving forward. Adversity really does make us stronger.

Best of luck with your new job search. I’ll be cheering for you!

Carolyn Short, RDH, BSDH, is a practicing clinician with 41 years of experience in cosmetic, periodontic, and general practices. She is also a part-time clinical instructor for the North Central Missouri College program located in the Hillyard Technical Center in St. Joseph, Missouri. Carolyn is past president of the Permian Basin Dental Hygienists’ Society and the Greater Kansas City Dental Hygienists’ Association. 


1. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. website.