Congrats to Ashley Stroupe, the winner of our student essay contest, for writing the amazing article below on how to find patients in dental hygiene school. She wins a national boards study program from StudentRDH.com, being published here on Hygiene Edge and $100. Also, she and ALL of those who submitted an article receive our, "Tips To Passing Clinical Boards," book because we love you!
How to Find Patients for Dental Hygiene Students By Ashley Stroupe
Finding my own patients is at the top of the list for dental hygiene school stress. Here are my tips, tricks, and advice for fellow stressed-out dental hygiene students struggling to recruit patients.
Family and Friends
Start with the people you know best…your family and friends. They are willing to help you out for school and you are comfortable with them (which gives you one less thing to worry about during the appointment).
Obviously, family and friends can’t always be patients. Some of the reasons being:
Your family lives in a different state
You have recently moved and don’t know many people yet
The people you know work jobs during the week
You need very specific criteria for a patient such as a certain calculus level, pediatric patient, or a patient with a faulty amalgam restoration
When you are faced with one or more of those situations, or have simply exhausted your “family and friend bank”, don’t worry—there are many other ways to find patients.
This has not always been an option, so now that it is—take advantage! Social media is one of the best ways to find patients, however, it is important to know how to use it.
Facebook- write an informative post with a photo. Share, share, share! Facebook is an easy way to get the word out to many people at once, but it is also saturated with posts of all variations. To ensure your post is being seen; be sure to re-post it frequently, share it, and encourage your friends to share it for you.
Instagram- post an eye-catching photo, meme, or funny picture and include a caption with how to get more information on being your patient.
Twitter- all you need is a straight-forward, simple tweet. Then just add a link to another social media forum you have posted on, a website, or contact information to find out more about being one of your patients.
Pinterest- create a Pinterest account and fill it with boards about dental hygiene school, funny dental hygiene pictures and jokes, quotes, ideas, tips, etc.
YouTube- make a short, informative video about what services are provided in your school’s clinic. A great idea is to create a video simply walking from the front entrance/waiting room area to your operatory/unit and showing them the chair they would be sitting in while explaining the things that would be included in their appointment.
The appointments at my school cost $35, are three hours, and take more than one appointment. Many people have a difficult time understanding the difference between the services provided at a school clinic and a “regular dental hygiene appointment” that only takes about an hour. Explain in your video the appointment will include: going over medical and dental history, taking vitals, dental charting, perio charting, X-rays, an extraoral exam inspecting facial muscles, lymph nodes, and TMJ, an intraoral exam, an oral cancer screening, patient education and nutritional counseling, the “regular cleaning” prophylaxis they might be used to including scaling, polishing and flossing, or possibly a “deeper cleaning” also known as scaling and root planing which includes local anesthetic if needed, fluoride treatment, sealants if needed, and an exam by the licensed dentist we have in the clinic. Also mention in your video that this is a learning facility and the instructors must check behind students, which also adds in time, however, the patient can have a piece of mind knowing they have had the most thorough dental hygiene appointment of their life. After potential patients see the different services and care they will receive, they will be more understanding about why $35 is a great deal, and why it takes more than one appointment.
Nextdoor- This has been one of the best ways to find patients because it targets people in a specific geographic location. Nextdoor is a free, private social network for your neighborhood. It is a way for people located in your specific community to share news about local events, lost and found pets, crime and weather alerts, etc. It has a classifieds section for people to find, sell, and give away items. Post a listing that says, “Need Dental Cleaning? No insurance necessary!” This helps grab the attention of many people and you can provide more details about what the cleaning involves or how to get more information. Other users can reply to your listing or send you a direct message. You can also choose to have email alerts sent to you when someone is interested in your listing.
Create a unique #Hashtag that you can use to link all your posts from different social media forums together. Some examples are: #SmilewithAshley or #AshleysHygienePatients. You can also include your hashtag on your business card or a flyer. Use other hashtags such as #Hygiene, #Dentalcleaning, #NeedPatients in your posts so that your information can be found by users searching for specific theme or content.
Business Cards & Flyers
One of the best things you can do to find patients is create your own business cards. I ordered mine on Vistaprint. You can get 500 business cards starting at just $9.99. Put your name, dental hygiene student, phone number, email, school’s clinic phone number and address and any other details you would like. Flyers can have the same information or be more detailed about what the cleaning includes and you can staple your card to a flyer. Flyers should be bright to catch attention. You can post them around and hand them out to people.
Keep cards with you- Keep some in your car, purse, or backpack because you never know when you might need one. I was glad to have a few on me when I met an Uber driver that had recently moved to Charlotte. I told him I was back in school to be a dental hygienist and he and his wife needed an affordable cleaning.
Trade business cards- Trade your card with others who are in an industry looking for patients, clients, or customers. This could be your hair stylist, a photographer, or a personal trainer.
Give cards to current patients- I created a line on my cards to write in the date and time of a patient’s next appointment. I also gave them a handful to give to people they know.
Get around town- Go to places nearby your school clinic. Bus stops, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, small businesses, churches, by community mailboxes in apartment/condo complex, etc. Leave your business cards or a flyer. Elementary, middle, and high schools are great if you are looking for a pediatric patient and if you have clinic in the summer (while they are out of school). Retirement communities are a good place to go because the people living there do not have to work during the week.
Restaurant employees- Many people who work in restaurants do not have dental insurance. They also typically have not been to the dentist in a while because of this, which can be good for meeting criteria of patients with certain calculus levels or periodontal requirements. Many employees work nights, enabling them to make it to appointments during the day.
Local grocery stores- Ask the manager if you can set up a table out front of the store. You can have a sign that reads, “Affordable Dental Cleaning with No Insurance”. Pass out cards and flyers and have a sign-up sheet to get the contact information of people interested in being a patient and contact them immediately without having to wait for them to call you. You can also ask the store manager if it would be okay for you to post a flyer in the toothpaste/toothbrush aisle for customers to see when they shop.
Dental office- People who work in dental offices can most likely relate to being in school for something dental-related at one point in their life and may have had to look for patients of their own. Go by local dental offices and ask to speak to the office manager or dentist. The dental office I did my observation hours at was fantastic about helping students. While I was there observing, a new patient came in with no insurance. She needed a few fillings, which the dentist would do for her, but she also needed scaling and root planing, and he told her about the school clinic which could save her a lot of money.
Non-profit Dental Clinic- If there are any opportunities to volunteer at clinics in your area, it is an opportunity to provide patient education and get potential patients. I volunteered at the North Carolina Missions of Mercy clinic in Charlotte, where people waited in line for free fillings, extractions, partials, etc. I provided some patient education and talked about the importance of regular hygiene appointments as people checked into the clinic. Many people are just simply unaware that there are schools with hygiene clinics and affordable cleanings that don’t require insurance.
Apartment complex- Go to the leasing/front office of local apartment complexes and leave some of your business cards. You can even create a small bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” note along with your card and/or flyer.
School campus- Walk around campus passing out flyers and cards because many students do not have dental insurance and usually have some time available during the week to be a patient. Post some flyers in the library and hand out your card at school festivals and events. Give some of your cards to teachers you have already had to pass out to their new classes of students. It is a great idea to give some cards to teachers of prerequisite subjects of the dental hygiene program, such as anatomy and physiology. It is a good idea for students who are trying to get into the dental hygiene program to be a patient so they can see what they would be doing as a student clinician.
Wear your scrubs- Although I did not do this on purpose, it worked! I went to the mall in my scrubs and employees working in some stores asked where I worked, which opened the conversation to being a dental hygiene student and giving out some of my cards.
Primary care physician- Give some of your cards to your doctor to give to other patients. I had a patient who told me it was her doctor who was telling her she needed to get to the dentist. This is becoming more common, especially with the links between periodontal disease and systemic health.
Local Orthodontic Offices- Sometimes Orthodontists see young patients that can benefit from more dental cleanings than insurance covers per year. Go by the office and ask the orthodontist to give your card to the parents of young patients that need extra cleanings.
One of my instructors recommended to get a Google Voice number so that people do not have your personal cell phone number. Google Voice allows you to call a patient from your cell phone and it will not provide your actual number on a caller ID. When patients call your Google Voice number from your business card it rings through your mobile phone. I also created an email address specifically for dental hygiene patients. In addition to strangers not having my personal email, I was able to check that email address and have only emails about people wanting to be patients or confirming appointments already scheduled.
Thank you to everyone who entered! Keep an eye out for next year for our next student essay contest.