Nancy Tran

Nancy Tran: Career Confidence & Self-Doubt – Smile Story No. 5

“Behind a Woman’s Perceived Confidence, There are Broken Smile Stories to Be Heard.”

October is a month known for breast cancer walks and apple picking, but it is also the month we celebrate the profession of dental hygiene. It takes a special person to serve the health needs of others through the mouth, and what better way to celebrate than to share a smile story from a beloved RDH out of Texas. 

Introducing one of my favorite RDHs…

For those who don’t know me, my name is Nancy Tran.

I am a RDA turned dental hygienist, recent single mother of one, and I am often perceived as a confident and successful individual with firecracker will power to accomplish anything that I put my mind to. As luxurious or complimenting as this sounds, my confidence and success stems from a lengthy history of broken smiles. When something is broken, how do we fix it? Do we pretend like it never happened, turn a cold shoulder, or put a bandaid over it? As easy as this seems, I’ve spent most of my life struggling to “fix” my broken smiles. I did all of the above mentioned, and just learned to “deal” with it and move on. I can attest that this method of “dealing” has attributed to nothing except the urge to run away from facing reality.

With over 13 years in the dental profession, my eyes have been opened to many significant and unique opportunities.  I loved everything about the dental profession. My early career as a dental assistant was remarkable. My eagerness and willingness to learn motivated me to wake up everyday and prepare for what the day had to offer.  Dr. S recognized my confidence and potential to grow within his dental office.  Although he was a great mentor, he was also the first office that I’ve worked at where I experienced a hot and cold work environment.  (Should this have been a RED FLAG leading into a long term career in dentistry?)  It was never addressed towards me, so I just turned a blind eye.  When I mean a hot and cold environment, I am referring to treating the team with utmost respect, bonuses, and team outings to degrading and vulgar remarks, mood swings, and instruments being thrown across the treatment rooms. That was a career milestone forever marked down for the books.

I eventually moved to Houston, and was successful as a lead dental assistant and treatment coordinator until I decided I wanted to pursue more in dentistry. I got accepted into hygiene school; graduated and became a part time dental hygienist in a private practice (which I still currently work – 7 years now). I also took on a lead dental hygienist/mentor position at a dental office within an oil and gas company. If you don’t already know, the demands and comparisons between private practice and corporate settings are on different standard of care wavelengths.  The first few years in corporate was manageable as it was a smaller company, and we still operated with “private practice,” standards.  As the company grew, more demands and cookie cutter systems were implemented.  That’s not exactly a bad thing, as most hygienists or “Type A” personalities would appreciate having some systems and processes in place.  

However, a lack of respect as an individual and as a dental hygiene provider in the “Team Setting” served up a mental and physical break down in the corporate setting. My passion and motivation for dentistry became undefined. My daily efforts were possible ONLY for the sake of my patients. I became disconnected and the only conversations I held at work were behind closed doors with my patients. Our relationships were built on a foundation of trust.  They saw and knew me long enough to recognize the emotional and physical stresses of working in this type of office culture. I suffered the consequences of being the “high performer.” Everything that I did was with high expectations, no room for error, and very little gratitude returned.

At one point, we suffered a  crisis at the hands of a temp hygienist.  Every patient that was seen in her chair regardless whether they were seen 3 months ago, or recently completed non-surgical gum treatment; was told they needed it again along with the antibiotic -Arestin.  This “periodontal crisis,” led to a disconnection in the relationship and confidence that the doctor and I shared.  Needless to say, as an evidence based dental hygienist with calibration and co-diagnosis amongst other hygienists who have seen the same patients in the past, I stood confident in my hygiene standards. A year passed, and I found myself stuck, unhappy, and eventually started to question my competence as a dental hygienist.  

Did you ever hear something enough times, that your mind starts to wonder if it’s true?  Well unfortunately, that was me.  I went from an extroverted, everyone’s favorite dental hygienist to an angry, annoyed, and highly outspoken version of Nancy that no one enjoyed seeing.  

As a kind and loving person that I usually am, my work environment had gotten the best of me and brought out the worst characteristics that I personally hated to see in others. That was when I realized – enough was enough.  The hardest part about walking away from a toxic work environment was the fear of abandoning my patients.  

For the sake of my sanity; this was the best decision that I made in my dental hygiene career.  I left a dark place that had me believing that I wasn’t providing optimal care to my patients, was not valued, and could no longer grow within the profession.  

Here’s the best advice that I can share regarding your self-confidence within your profession.

Follow your intuition, know your worth, and remain strong not only for your patients, BUT for yourself.

Your self-confidence is POWERFUL; DO NOT let anyone take that away from you.  

The fact that I hit such a dark place, and allowed my worth and value to be clouded by someone else’s judgement is more reason for me to share my #smilestory, so it does not happen to others.  I never had issues with job offers, acceptance, let alone fitting in ANYWHERE.  As soon as I left, I told myself and my support system that I would take some time off to heal & mentally recover.  However, my passion and the workaholic in me didn’t allow me to sit out for too long.  I connected with offices that have been waiting for me to commit full time in previous years, negotiated my own salary ($5 more an HOUR!) and schedule based on what works for me.  This is all possible because I took and regained control of my self-worth, confidence, and ability to deliver what I know I am capable of…

Recovering from bullying in the workplace:

I am the happiest in my entire dental career. It took 2 years to find someone to work alongside me as the  second hygienist. They are still looking for someone to fill my position since I have left. I have not only set high standards through my work ethics, but I paved an outstanding level of care that patients expect to be fulfilled. The struggle to fill this role after I left; gives me  the affirmation of what my intuition was already aware of.  Workplace breakups are hard… in this case it was THEM, not me…

Stay tuned for more of Nancy’s story. In the meantime connect with Nancy and follow her heartwarming smile on Insta at @smilehavenrdh