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The value of community

Nov. 18, 2020
When we build one another up, we can create real change when needed and support our profession. Together we can reach our personal and professional goals with a feeling of security and safety.

During this time of COVID-19, we find ourselves in the midst of change and sacrifice, constantly pivoting and adjusting to modifications forced on us from all directions. We are isolated or in limited contact with others, contacting one another through virtual means or from six feet away, and missing our friends’ faces, now covered by masks. Individuals, no matter their age, are noticing the lack of human interaction and ability to spend time with peers and are feeling the impacts in our day-to-day lives. As our country struggles to find a balance between safety and normalcy, we search for ways to obtain the sense of community we have lost in the past few months. Whether it’s COVID time, or not, the importance of community is clear, and it is important for everyone to feel a sense of belonging.

What does it mean to establish community in the dental field?

In general, a sense of community in any aspect of life unites us. Connecting with like-minded people provides a sense of purpose, as if we are a part of something greater than ourselves, because, in fact, we are! Community allows us to connect with other people, reach our goals, and a gives a feeling of security and safety.

Where do I find community?

Where can we find community in the dental field? It is all around us. Our profession is filled with countless organized groups, such as the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). Many nondental-related organizations or specialized dental groups are a great fit for dental hygienists too. For example, the American Public Health Association (APHA) or the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) are fantastic groups to be involved with if you are working in specialized areas of our field. I encourage everyone to explore these groups, find out about membership, and discover all they do behind the scenes. If they don’t appeal to you, no worries! You can find community online through many community forums and platforms, at face-to-face dental conferences, and even with local groups of professionals gathering alongside companies or for continuing education or simply to hang out!

But I don’t feel like I belong

I recently read a story about a group that held a party in a new community. The invitations read something like this: “You’re invited to an ‘I Don’t Feel Like I Belong’ party.” Genius! We all need to have parties like this. I often hear people say they feel like they don’t belong, and sometimes I feel the same way. Many of us suffer from impostor syndrome, or we feel like outsiders in a group. Throw in social anxiety and introversion, and it may seem as if the barriers are too much to overcome. I hear you, as I am one of those people who need a nudge to enter into uncomfortable situations.

I am also here to tell you that those who seem unlike us are most likely more like us than you may think. I have had the privilege of getting to know many leaders, speakers, authors, and business owners in our field, and many have reported feeling like they do not belong or are nervous in certain situations or looking for support from their communities. This blew my mind as I felt I didn’t belong with them! Therein lies the problem—the “us” and “them” mindset—so let’s forget that idea completely; we are one dental hygiene community. We must continue to hold the hands of others, encouraging one another to show up at the literal and figurative “I Don’t Belong” parties! If we do not support one another along our journey of growth and uncertainty, our profession will suffer. If we don’t continue to build one another up, we cannot expect to grow.

“We”: The importance of united community

What does it mean to show up united? What does it mean to support those in our field even if our journeys are not the same?

Many of us entered the field of dentistry for similar reasons. We all graduated from similar educational facilities, completed similar licensing exams, and maybe even cried over similar stresses along the journey. Dental hygienists work in various settings, including private practices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and more. Some of us share our clinical talents every day, creating healthier mouths and bodies for patients in dental practices everywhere. Some dental hygienists work in community public health, providing care to those who would otherwise go without. Others are educators, teaching the future of our profession. Some dental hygienists are speakers, authors, influencers—bringing education, knowledge, and research to our communities. Dental hygienists have stepped up to lead in state and national associations, in dental organizations, and beyond, fighting for policy. Others find themselves the face of corporate companies. 

Regardless of where you are in your journey—whether you’re hustling to start your own business or have no desire to be an entrepreneur … whether you are climbing the corporate ladder and building a strong network with companies and sponsors or working in a clinical practice caring for your patients and treating their oral care needs—none of these roles are “wrong.” No role is “better”; we all have our roles within our communities, and those roles are fluid and ever changing. We must support other hygienists exploring all areas of the profession, even if we don’t personally enjoy or understand those areas of our field. If you see someone doing something you would love to do, reach out to them, ask about their journey, and ask how they got there. I am sure you will hear stories of struggle, perseverance, and reward. We are all members of the same community, and so many dental leaders and pioneers are ready to help others grow as clinical practitioners or in other ways. Just ask!

We must always support one another online or in person, wherever dental hygienists are. If we create a strong network of dental hygienists who support one another and celebrate our differences, we can create real change when needed and defend our profession together.

The power of community can change anything. Cue the High School Musical Soundtrack, “We’re all in this together!”

Megen Elliott, MS-OCL, RDH, CDA, has over 12 years of experience in the dental field. She finds joy in inspiring others to grow and reach their full potential. As an educator, interprofessional speaker, volunteer leader, and podcast host, Megen is able to explore many areas of the dental industry. Most recently, she is serving as Pro Team manager with the oral care company, Twice. Megen enjoys connecting with dental professionals both online and while attending dental conferences around the country. She hopes you will reach out to connect on Instagram: @yourdentalfriendmegen or [email protected], as she always welcomes new friends!