Practicing as an American dental hygienist in Switzerland is much more complicated today than it was 20 years ago. This is why there are so few American hygienists present in Switzerland now.
When I worked there, there was a community of hundreds of Americans consisting of both Canadians and U.S Americans. There were also hygienists from Scandinavian countries present. What happened so suddenly to cause this decline?
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Dental Hygienists Drawn to Switzerland
Switzerland is a nice place to live in Europe. The country is clean. The country is well organized. The crime rate is relatively low. Loads of rich people live there. Healthcare is good.
The salaries are high. However, the costs of living are equally as high. Hygienists accepted the offer to work in Switzerland in the 80s and 90s for the chance to live abroad and to promote preventive dentistry abroad.
Dental care, itself, is no more glamorous in Switzerland than in the U.S. However, in Switzerland, you get loads of vacation and public holidays. Also, the salary is as good or better than in the U.S. You are also well respected as a dental hygienist.
Most importantly, your job is secured under contract. This is a nice benefit that few enjoy in the U.S. The contract makes it easier to know what to expect while working in their country.
Nevertheless, you will earn your keep. There are loads of perio patients. Most patients smoke. Maintaining oral health and taking steps for preventive care is still not really the European strong suit. The mentality is more reactive than preventive.
The work can be back-breaking. The appointments are normally 1 hour and there is a lot to do in that one hour. Some hygienists came to Switzerland and left disillusioned after a short time.
While they did get a lot of benefits for being a dental hygienist in Switzerland, even those weren’t good enough to convince some to stay.
Switzerland is a small, land-locked country. It shares borders with Italy, France, Germany, Lichtenstein, and Austria. The country itself offers little to see and do; perhaps seeing the Alps, hiking, or skiing. However, since it is in the middle of so many other cool countries, travel is easy, affordable, and pleasurable.
There is a lot to see while traveling between the countries of central Europe. If you have to live abroad, Switzerland is a nice place to do it. But they don’t make it easy these days. Let’s discuss some of the barriers and how to get over them.
Getting Across The Impenetrable Borders
Firstly, Switzerland has a reputation for tight borders. American hygienists worked their ways around this barrier since our profession was in-demand. The dentists would simply sponsor the hygienist’s visa, in exchange for a specified contract duration.
Once this sponsoring arrangement systematically ended, the borders closed to American hygienists. This means that holders of U.S. or Canadian passports have no other way of entering the country to work. The outlook is not much better for graduates of European programs.
Nevertheless, some hygienists still want to experience working and living abroad. Unfortunately, Switzerland – which was our main source of jobs – has dried up for us. Who or what was behind this change?
The Swiss Red Cross Licensure Issue
Secondly, the Swiss Dental Hygienists and the Swiss Red Cross work together to hinder the licensing of other hygienists. Americans established the dental hygiene profession in Switzerland with the help of a forward-thinking Swiss dentist. Therefore, our licenses formerly always held reciprocity.
However, recently the Swiss Red Cross started to oversee the licensing of all healthcare professionals. We hygienists are used to being licensed by a governing body in the U.S. and in Canada. So, this is not an issue. The issue is that our training is no longer equal to the Swiss training. This is all political, of course.
Our education standards have not decreased. Switzerland’s standards have also not magically surpassed ours. We just have to accept their attempts to protect their profession now. As a side point, the U.S. never automatically recognizes any foreign medical degrees.
Make no mistake about it. Swiss employers value our training and education. They hire us willingly, even today, as long as sponsorship is not necessary. Sponsoring an American for a Swiss work visa is incredibly expensive. So, in addition to the immigration barrier, we now have the licensing barrier.
Licensing For Dental Hygienists in Switzerland
The easiest way to work in Switzerland as an American is to already have residency rights. This means a Swiss passport, a residency permit or access to either or both.
The next hurdle is the diploma recognition process mandated by the Swiss Red cross. This can get pricey. According to their official site, the process will cost upwards of CHF 1000 (USD 1100). They do allow you to do a free pre-check to know if it makes sense for you to proceed. After the pre-check, you will receive official notification to proceed with the recognition process or not.
Foreign Hygienists And The Language Barrier
After receiving a positive response, the next step is proof of language ability. According to the Swiss Red Cross’ site, you mush have a B2 certificate or higher to prove your ability. The site mentions which certificates it will accept. For example, the Goethe certificate is one of the certificates accepted for the German language.
As you try to navigate through the Swiss Red Cross’ website, you will not see an option to translate it into English. The Swiss Red Cross website is only available in German, French or Italian. These are the main official languages of the country. Hint, hint.
As you can see, they won’t make it easy to overcome their barriers. Being proficient in at least one of the main languages of Switzerland is now a must.
Dental Hygienist Jobs in Switzerland
The job search for a dental hygienist is easiest if done online. The SSO, or the Swiss Dental Chamber, previously provided a list of employers looking for hygienists. This list used to cost around CHF 50 and was mailed out to a physical address. This no longer seems to be case.
You can still reach out to them directly to let them know that you are looking for work in Switzerland. They may still give access to a list unless they require proof of a Red Cross license beforehand.
Otherwise, each dental hygiene school has a job board. These may require registration and approval in order to access them.
Dental Hygiene Schools in Switzerland
The following four schools are where one can study to be a dental hygienist. They also offer alumni access to a job board.
- Careum Bildungszentrum (Zurich)
- medi – Zentrum für medizinische Bildung (Bern)
- Prophylaxe Zentrum (Zurich)
- École Supérieure D’Hygiénistes Dentaires (Geneva)
Difficult But Not Impossible
Working as a foreign-trained dental hygienist in Switzerland is possible. You need to prepare for a long and frustrating process, though. This might include lost paperwork, the inability to find the exact document that are required, and months of waiting.
Germany, on the other hand, is a lot less frustrating for Canadian and U.S. passport holders. You don’t need a visa to work as a dental hygienist in Germany. They only require you to apply for a residency permit. Also, your license is generally recognized and jobs are plentiful. Germany too, is a great place to practice dental hygiene abroad.
Check out the blog feed to learn more about how to live and work in Germany as a dental hygienist.