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Gen Z in Dentistry: Get to Know the Dental Class of 2021

Posted May 6, 2021

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

The new class of graduating dental professionals is particularly special. Not only was the class of 2021 inspired to take this career path, but they continued pursuing their dental education with pragmatism and self-reliance throughout the pandemic. And now they are ready to get to work! With dental clinicians in high demand and short supply, hiring managers must seriously look at Gen Z in dentistry. Understanding what these dental hygienists and dental assistants bring to the dental profession helps seamlessly integrate them into existing teams.

The conditions and events of the time period during our formative years affects much of our outlook, mindset, and beliefs. Each generation is impacted by nationwide or global circumstances including the economy, wartime or peacetime, and advancements in technology. And the generation raising us imposes their belief systems and what they would like to change. When we understand a person’s wants, needs, and background, we can learn what drives them personally and professionally. This is immensely helpful with better managing our increasingly diverse teams!

Understanding the Characteristics of Gen Z 

Born between 1996 and 2015 and known as the mobile-first generation or “Zoomers,” Gen Z is self-aware, value-driven, authentic, entrepreneurial and independent. Understanding the traits of this generation will help you better connect with them. But keep in mind it is an individual candidate’s characteristics and values that will really matter to your dental business.

Technology-savvy their entire lives, 2021’s graduates have the latest training, are accustomed to instant digital access and motivated by efficiency. In addition to their technology knowledge and love for virtual collaboration, the 2019 Yello Recruiting study indicates they value highly personal interaction – preferably face-to-face. 

No surprise to news watchers and social media users, Zoomers are passionate about making a difference in the world. Their passions include human rights, environmentalism, and political reform. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to this generation, and this goes beyond racial and ethnic identity to sexual identity.

Although being drawn to social media influencers, they have seen first-hand the dark side of social media. This makes them tend to have more private personal lives than Millennials.

Entrepreneurism in Dentistry

Gen Z has observed entrepreneurism in dentistry, and they admire enterprises that are creative. Office and team culture matter to them. Graduating dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants are most drawn to authenticity and creativity. This includes working with young, entrepreneurial dentists or in emerging DSOs. A top consulting firm, Accenture, reports that Gen Z clinicians are more likely to prefer larger corporations than Millennials did. Those in this age group are seeking a balance between workplace enjoyment, the potential for career advancement, and stable income. 

This is the “crowd-sourced” generation where side hustles are common. They might be inclined to pick up non-dentistry gigs to supplement their income and help achieve their financial goals. And many 20- to 24-year-olds today have worked multiple part-time jobs. Working at more than one dental location for an expanding dental group or dental service organization (DSO) may be favorable. They may find it even more attractive if career advancement opportunities are possible within a couple of years.

How To Attract & Win Over Gen Z  

According to the 2019 Yello Recruiting Study, this generation is discerning about employment choices, and many will receive multiple offers. You will want to keep in mind the following considerations.

Zoomers prefer referrals over job posting sites and start their search early in their training. They make use of career centers, internships, and networking. Because of this, recruiters from large DSOs may have the edge over solo practitioners or small group practices. They could have already established a relationship in career centers at colleges with dental hygiene programs.

Although an “old school” first phone interview might be appreciated, it won’t impress them. Gen Z has a preference for face-to-face interviews that are in person or via video conferencing. Before you meet online or in person, safely assume they’ve scoured the web to learn about you and your practice. Hopefully, you have an active social media and Google Business account with great reviews and engagement. According to Yello Recruiting, once the interview process has started, they will expect the process to move quickly.

Gen Z’s Expectations

Zoomers are well aware of the current demand for clinicians and the compensation levels in their state. So, the class of 2021 is expecting competitive offers and seeking positions where there are career advancement opportunities. This might include eventually leading a department within the dental practice, providing expanded services, or perhaps DSO-wide mentoring of new hygienists. As state laws increasingly allow dental hygienists to work at the top of their training, be alert that graduating hygienists will be setting career goals to perform more services. 

Do you use the latest technology? That matters to Gen Z, but other things matter, too. Accenture reports Gen Z understands the importance of human touch in the world of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Zoomers value the development of their communications and problem-solving skills and will choose employment where mentorship and coaching are available. They are serious about their professionalism and crave an environment where they can be creative collaborators while also having some fun. 

Tips for Onboarding and Retaining Gen Z

Don’t assume they know everything they need to know to work effectively in your office with your team and patients. Having a ‘didn’t you learn that in school’ attitude is only going to hinder development and confidence. The key to success with new grads is listening and mentoring. It may not be easy to hear everything they say but if you ask them to share with the intent of making things better for everyone in alignment with practice goals, and if you respond positively once you have processed those thoughts, these youngest employees will feel their insights matter. Invest in time for them to shadow the team members who embody the mission of your practice—both clinically and culturally. They’ll learn a lot and appreciate the time spent to integrate into the practice.

Rachel Wall, Founder of Inspired Hygiene
Some thoughts to keep in mind as you listen and mentor:
  1. Mentoring and coaching are desirable. But micro-supervision is not. Gen Z is resourceful, thoughtful, creative, and independent. 
  2. They prefer video for self-education and news. While overseeing successful training, lean on video training for meeting some HIPAA and OSHA requirements. Videos can also help them learn the software you use. 
  3. Empower new hires to discuss the problems they observe and collaborate on solutions. 
  4. If you invite them to help with social media and patient communication, they may astutely lead patients forward to treatment. Their social media help can also get greater visibility for your practice, which attracts new patients. 
  5. Zoomers value unique opportunities to grow. Providing learning opportunities that are exclusive and immersive will keep them feeling engaged and committed to the job. 
  6. Facilitate leadership experiences. Perhaps, open the way for developing a healthy mouth program in the local schools. For a growing DSO, a Gen Z hire could be invaluable in developing a mentorship or internship program. 
  7. Socially meaningful team events, such as volunteering in an access-to-care clinic, helps intergenerational team bonding. Volunteering enhances your practice reputation within the community as well.

What We See in the Cards

While there is still much to learn as the newest generation of dental clinicians begins working, we do have some projections. Based on what we know about Gen Z and the current dental hiring environment, dental hygienist supply and demand will be a strong motivator to hire the dental hygiene class of 2021 and future young graduates. The class of 2021 is on the leading edge of Generation Z entering the dental profession, so understanding what they value will be key to recruiting new graduates for years to come. 

The new class of dental professionals will have an energizing impact – from attracting like-minded patients to increasing efficiency and event helping us grow our social presence. Rather than just making ripples, we anticipate they will make dramatic waves that accelerate how fast we adopt advanced dental technologies, enhance online patient interaction, and even diversity and environmentalism in dentistry. 


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