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The benefits of being present

Nov. 18, 2013
When we constantly fret about past occurrences, or worry about future circumstances, we totally miss out on the one thing we can control – the present.

By Kimberly Herrmann, RDH
November 25, 2013

As I was thinking about what to write for you students this month, I noticed that among a few of my friends, and also within some things I was reading, there seemed to be a common theme appearing: to get the most out of your life, you must stay focused on the present. This is so true. When we constantly fret about past occurrences, or worry about future circumstances, we totally miss out on the one thing we can control – the present. The present is where we always are. We must make the most of it!

Understanding the shape of things to come as a dental hygiene student

I realized how aptly this applies to us as dental hygienists, and to you as dental hygiene students. Being past or future focused leads to ineffectiveness. Our tasks are better learned and perfected by directing our thoughts to the here and now. Don’t get distracted by what your classmates are doing, or worry about what a difficult instructor may say. Stay intent on accomplishing your work at hand to the best of your abilities.

A student shadowed me a couple of weeks ago at work. She was amazed at how quickly and easily I was able to take bitewings. I suggested she make it simple. Focus on the basics of X-ray taking. Really, taking X-rays is like geometry – you have the shapes of angles, perpendiculars, and parallels. As students, you guys have the fantastic opportunity to practice on Dexter (or other mannequins) – use him to perfect your X-ray skills! Get those angles down while you can practice over and over.

Things always seem difficult until you master them. The formula for mastery is to give the undertaking your undivided attention and focus. Be fully engaged, and then repeat, repeat, repeat!

When you are working on a real patient, there may be additional challenges, such as: strong gag reflexes, impatient people, or uncomfortable people (maybe they have a small mouth). Some tips I like for assisting me with taking X-rays, especially on someone who gags easily are: use topical anesthetic on the palate and sides of the tongue, and use a distraction technique. (I have the patient lift their left foot two inches off of the chair while I’m taking bitewings on the right side, and vice versa for the left side. It is amazing how well this can work!)

The 12 best states for young dental hygienists

The basis for your confidence in taking X-rays starts with Dexter, and then you can build on it as you transition into the working world. Try to keep this simple. Radiology can get very wordy and intimidating in school. But for your future clinical skills, just stay present and focused on the basics of your X-ray taking. You will perfect them in no time!

I remember many years ago, I worked with a dental assistant who had a bad habit of interrupting me frequently. It is hard to stay focused on task if you are constantly being interrupted. This one particular day, she popped in my operatory probably four or five times within a 30-minute period. She was chattering, laughing, and asking me questions each time. I allowed her to get me so frazzled that I raked a brand new H5/33 straight across the palm of my hand, cutting about a three-inch gash in my hand. At that point, I had to get up and tend to my wound. And that was a lesson learned. At any point in your day that you are not able to stay centered and focused, it’s time to regroup. The nature of our profession is too risky not to. Risky for us as clinicians, as students, and also for those patients we treat.

As hygienists (both students and licensed), we are required to make judgment calls, over and over, all throughout our day. You will need to get good at making succinct assessments and supplying solutions on the spot, as there is the time management factor to execute also.

Start thinking this way in school. If your mind is wandering – worried about an upcoming test, or awaiting a taken test’s score – you are diminishing the quality of and effectiveness of your potential right now, in the present. Keep this in mind while preparing for your boards as well.

Distractions take away from your effectiveness in dental hygiene and in life. Make it a habit to show up every day, do the best you can do, and focus your efforts on the here and now. Think of how much more value you will get out of your education!


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Kimberly Herrmann, RDH has been a practicing dental hygiene clinician for 27 years. She is a past alternate delegate to the ADHA, past president of the Mississippi DHA, and past president-elect of Southern Nevada Dental Hygienists’ Association. She currently serves as an examiner with CITA and is a member of the National Association of Professional Women. You can find more hygiene advice from Kimberly in her new book, Becoming a Clinical Asset, written to inspire new hygienists, outline real solutions to everyday challenges, and provide support along the way.