A dental hygienist's journey: Why UOR career panel can start a dream

The RDH Under One Roof conference is hosting a panel outside Washington, D.C., in Maryland titled “Evolving Your Dental Hygiene Career.” I believe it might be the most important discussion of a dental hygienist's career.

May 24th, 2016

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Sometimes our careers are not straight trajectories. They can be a process with a journey along an unbroken path. This fresh track can sometimes take us in unexplored directions, fraught with risks and challenges, learning and personal development.

My story is such an account and is an example of a long time evolving career. Interestingly, the events that have occurred have led me to exactly where I had planned to be 25 years ago. The purpose in telling my story is to give you insight into the power of creating tomorrow today. When we consciously give thought to where we want to go and apply even minuscule amounts of energy to it daily, the future unfolds in magical ways. After all, tomorrow is but yesterday’s dreams.

What are your dreams? How do you want to evolve your dental hygiene career?

The RDH Under One Roof conference is hosting a panel outside Washington, D.C., in Maryland titled “Evolving Your Dental Hygiene Career.” I believe for some it might be the most important discussion of a career. How do you get to where you are going if you don’t know where it is? What do you want your future to look like? What do you need to get there? How can you help orchestrate needed changes? What skills do you require to expand yourself and your career?

Perhaps you can’t even imagine what tomorrow could look like but want to continue to evolve as a dental hygienist and as a person. It is true that we are either busy growing, or we are busy dying. The Evolving Your Dental Hygiene Career panel at RDH UOR promises to be a conversation that will spark new thinking, new ideas, and perhaps generate new energy for you. As an evolving professional, be sure to take advantage of this rich resource.

Maria Perno Goldie will lead this panel of discussion/brainstorming. There are nine other hygienists sitting on this panel, and I am elated to be one of the panellists. This is the story of how I got there:

Evolving My Dental Hygiene Career

Twenty-five years ago, I had a dream. The dream was to impart wisdom to dental offices across North America. I wanted a better environment in dental offices for everyone. I wanted barriers to fall, equality amongst all team members and the focus of a common vision that uplifted everyone, and by extension, brought success to the office. Little did I know that I had much to learn, skills to acquire, and so much more wisdom to obtain.

I had already been working in dentistry for a number of years and had witnessed uncivil behavior in multiple dental offices, ranging from benign neglect to overt intimidation. I was even the intended target of bullying behaviour, although I had the uncanny ability to step aside from attacks and simply be a matador. The flying arsenal of weapons thrown at me would generally fly past with an occasional glazing, but seldom did I take a direct hit.

I learned to steel myself in this unhealthy work environment, and tried to ignore the mean spirited behaviour. My rationalization was that if another staff member was so disturbed in spirit that she felt the need to harm a team member for no reason, then something must be missing in her life. And I did not envy her life.

It was after attending a program delivered by Fortune Practice Management (a 1990s dental consultancy company) that I saw a path to achieving the dream of inspiring others. FPM’s message resonated with me, and I contacted the speaker, Dr. Paul Bass, eventually travelling to Tennessee to learn more. I hosted Dr. Bass at a seminar in Ottawa, Canada, and sojourned to Detroit to shadow another one of FPM’s speakers. I seriously wanted to facilitate change within dental offices.

My “calling” was abandoned when my personal life blew up, and like an atomic bomb, there was fallout. Life became a shambles, and it was a success to simply navigate day to day. I saw my lofty aspirations evaporate into oblivion as I took on the role of a single mom, living rurally, outside a community with a population of 63.

Life had happened, and I was unprepared. I had left my home, family, friends, and country for the man I loved, which proved to be my worst nightmare. Call it pride, stubbornness, or maybe even stupidity, but I stayed in an abusive marriage for way too long. Wanting the marriage to work and by now having two small children certainly influenced me, but also was the fact that I had no family around to help me understand the extent of the damage to my own thinking that had occurred over years of living in perpetual fear.

The day my ex-husband left was the day I began to heal. I had no time to wallow in self-pity, I had two small children to raise and provide for. I needed to not only make a living for us, but as Sir Winston Churchill said, I also needed to “make a life.” Although this new life was filled with responsibilities, it was also empowering. I could create tomorrow today for I was finally in charge of my life. I could exercise my own will and I began accumulating skills, confidence, and wisdom to navigate a better future for my family. It was during these “manic mode” years that I saw the power of what I call the creativity code—the compass that I now use to direct my life.

One of the benefits of dental hygiene is the ability to work part time and still retain position, a good income, and be a part of a team. I needed more balance in my life so I took a risk. I reduced my hygiene week to three days a week and opened a photography studio in our home and thus began the climb up a steep learning curve. With no formal training in photography, compounded with no idea of how to run a business, my education was notable for its experiments and failures. Lots of failures!

But necessity is a strong motivator, and I had two very good reasons (my little boys) for the drive to push past barriers. I eventually obtained my Masters of the Photographic Arts from the Professional Photographers of Canada. Growing a business from the ground up was indeed a broadening education.

Fast-forward 20 years, and the landscape has changed. I have raised my sons (aka “the animals”), closed Garlough Photo, and exited clinical hygiene. Today, I am pursuing my goal of a quarter of a century ago and I feel both grateful and humbled.

I am most grateful to RDH magazine and PennWell Corp. for the opportunity to write for RDH. Writing is helping me to evolve my career by exercising writing skills, refining my thinking and consolidating my varied unorthodox learning. Sitting on the panel at RDH UOR is a highlight after many years of purposeful action. I feel privileged to give voice to other hygienists’ ambitions.

It is interesting to note that I would not recognize the shell of a woman I was 25 years ago. That young woman was powerless and fearful, but even in the darkest of times, I felt that I was experiencing pain for a reason. My earlier bully and my ex-husband have been my greatest teachers and I now understand that those who hurt others are in pain themselves. I have learned compassion.

Today, I am much better equipped to spread my message of workplace wellness. I am a wiser woman not in spite of my meandering career path, but because of it. Life’s learning lessons have helped make me a wise woman. The hardships I faced have added to me both personally and professionally, and I am humbled that my dream of long ago is becoming my reality!

What about you? What are your hopes and aspirations? How do you want to evolve your dental hygiene career? What will be your story of how you get there?

I sincerely hope that those attending the RDH UOR conference will contribute to the conversation on the Evolving Your Dental Hygiene Career panel. We can make magic together and maybe, just maybe, you will birth a dream. I can tell you that the journey to get there is purposeful and meaningful. We are all creating tomorrow today and when we give thought and energy to it, life unfolds in mysterious and beautiful ways. What are you creating?

May your dreams too, become your reality!

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at dgarlough@innovationadvancement.com or visit engagingteams.com.

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