Feeling the breeze

April 21, 2005
How does the breeze feel when you row down a car window? Pretty good, actually. Author feels dental hygiene should give us the same feeling.

by Cappy C. Snider, RDH

My day usually ends with a commute between my workplace and my children's school, and then home. This journey generally takes about an hour and sometimes adds stress to an already hectic day. Lately, my four-year-old daughter, Lily, has helped me to see things differently. The last bit of our drive finds us on a country road. Lily and I have agreed that she can open her car window once we are on this road. Her response to this simple act has caused me to find a parallel in my career.

You see, when Lily opens that window, she squeals with delight. She throws back her head and closes her eyes. Thrilled at the freedom of an unobstructed experience, she relishes the feel of the wind on her face and in her hair. It is a favorite part of her (and my) day. Watching her has made me realize how important it is for us, who may have become jaded with our surroundings, to open up to new experiences.

Experiencing new things and facing challenges head-on has become a recurring theme in my career and life. It has caused me to become a hygienist on a mission instead of going through the motions each day. This has not been an easy road. Change for any of us is difficult and for some it's paralyzing. Finding the courage to step into anything new sends chills up many people's spines. How can we find the strength to complete or even just attempt change? Several ways come to my mind.

Open yourself to change. Giving yourself the permission and freedom to try something new is so important. Success is not guaranteed. No one likes to fail, but the lessons learned in just trying are so valuable. It's these lessons that prepare us for the next challenge we may face and give us courage to try again. How boring life would be if we could always predict success. There are so many examples throughout history of those who had failed numerous times and finally found a positive outcome. My employer, Dr. Brooke Porter, and my co-worker, Jamie Middleton, RDH, are two excellent examples of this.

Dr. Porter's decision to become a dentist was made after a conversation with her great aunt, who had been a practicing hygienist for 25 years. During a car ride one day, she stated that she wanted to be in the dental field like her aunt when she grew up. While her aunt loved her chosen profession, she encouraged her niece to pursue the career of dentistry.

When Dr. Porter finally started college, she thought her previous study plan of showing up periodically for class and acing the tests would carry her through. That left the rest of her college life for socializing and sleeping! After her first year of miserable grades, the university decided that perhaps she was not ready for this challenge and asked her to take a break to reconsider her life plans.

She did just that by working as an administrative assistant. Was dentistry what she really wanted to do? A year of working an entry level job was all she needed to refocus her direction and return to college with renewed commitment and enthusiasm for her chosen profession. Many school awards later, she is an accomplished dentist who is continually seeking new knowledge. She does not consider her detour a failure; it was a hard lesson in focus and commitment to achieving a life goal.

Jamie is another example of how searching for a positive outcome can lead to a rewarding career. Jamie began college without clear direction for a major. She changed from fashion merchandising to teaching and still was not sure of her decision when her dentist encouraged her to consider dental hygiene. Jamie decided that this career path was worth pursuing. Her education took many years to complete due to the undecided nature of her degree plan.

Now a practicing hygienist for two years, she does not consider the false starts she made with her education wasted time. All of the things she learned in those other classes contribute to who she is today. It has allowed her to bring excellent people skills and enthusiasm to her career.

Unsuccessful experiences did not stop these individuals from attaining higher goals; those steps were necessary for climbing the path to where they are today. The experiences caused them to redirect their energies, take stock of their choices, and made their success even sweeter.

Seek and develop relationships with mentors. Finding someone with life experience that you may not have can prove so encouraging. Mentors offer great advice and positive reinforcement. They can be there to offer constructive suggestions when you are faltering. Mentors come in many forms. They can be found through professional associations, work acquaintances, church family, or even a trusted friend can mentor us.

Mentors are not only useful in our professional lives, but can be there to assist us with other aspects of our lives as well. The key to learning from a mentor though, is to be open to their advice. If you never try any of the suggestions that they make, the degree to which they can help you is limited.

The mentors in my professional and personal life have encouraged, even pushed me to rethink my capabilities and limitations. Sometimes a gentle nudge is what we need to step outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes a carefully placed boot is needed to assist us with change. Either way, the end result is learning something we did not know before.

Stay connected to others in your profession who are excited about their careers. Nothing brings enthusiasm to a screeching halt faster than the negativity generated by dissatisfied coworkers. It may take a little detective work to find a positive group of folks to connect with, but the effort is well worth it.

Again, professional associations are a great place to start. Online groups such as the one found at www.amyrdh.com can be a place to find support, new information, and a generally sympathetic ear when problems arise. Online groups are there all the time, even as a personal issue or question is taking place. There's no need to wait for a formal meeting or get-together for answers or advice. Thankfully though, this online group is also very forthcoming with constructive criticism that we often need to work through a problem.

Read those journals. Many dental hygiene publications are offered free of charge. There are pertinent articles each month that offer new information for us to incorporate into our knowledge bank. Learning to read these articles and critically think about how the information was obtained is a skill that we all need to keep sharp.

The pile of journals that stacks up each month often looks daunting, but with just a few minutes each day, one can usually get through them. Sharing articles with coworkers and employers also keeps the lines of communication open and lets them know we are genuinely interested in our careers.

If an article speaks to something you are particularly interested in, contact the author (information is usually provided in their biography at the end of the article) and inquire as to a possible continuing education presentation in your area. My experience has found that these authors are more than willing to share their time to answer a question or two you may have about their topic.

Continue your education. Graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program was the culmination of many hours of hard work and study. After an experience like that, an intellectual breather is well deserved. Don't let that break last too long.

So often we think of our education as completed when our title is earned. In reality, it's learning how to hold a scaler and some Latin words. Too much is changing in this profession not to stay abreast of current research, practices and technologies. Continuing your education may not necessarily entail working toward another formal degree. So many avenues exist to enable us to learn new treatment modalities. Continuing education classes are a wonderful place to start.

Most presenters travel throughout the United States and will be in your area at some time or another. Web sites for these presenters will usually list their schedules for the next several months or you can check the back of this magazine where a number of courses are listed. Waiting for a CE opportunity in your immediate area is shortchanging yourself career-wise, though. While it is convenient to stay close to home, and circumstances often dictate that we do, traveling to a course allows even more opportunity. Not only do you get to experience a different location, but networking with hygienists from other areas is a great education in itself.

We can learn so much from others who practice in different areas. Dental hygiene is like the different dialects we all experience as we travel. The goal is the same for our patients, but getting there is done with different inflection and accents. And being from Texas, accents are something I'm very familiar with!

Have you felt the wind in your face lately? If not, it's probably about time that you did. Roll down the window of your life experience and knowledge base. Feel the excitement and even the fear of having nothing stand between you and a new experience. Don't worry if the weather is not perfect, timing seldom is. Just enjoy the exhilaration of something new.

About Aunt Jewel:

Dr. Porter's aunt, Jewel Casburn, RDH, inspired her to pursue her career in dentistry. This encouragement was borne out of her aunt's deep love of her chosen career and perhaps a yearning for a missed opportunity early in Jewel's professional life.

Jewel was a dental assistant for about 35 years. Early in her career, the dentist that Jewel assisted experienced the death of his son. Without his son to eventually inherit his dental practice, he approached Jewel with a proposition: He would send her to dental school and she would become his associate. It was a different time for women all those years ago and Jewel's mother would not agree to this opportunity.

Jewel eventually married, but was a young widow in her late 30's. She continued as a dental assistant but knew that she wanted more. At the age of 52, Jewel graduated from the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Baylor University in Dallas. She was a member of the very first class that graduated from this program, which was a two-year program at the time. Jewel Casburn, RDH practiced dental hygiene for another 25 years. Much of that time was spent in the office of one of the founding dentists of our local dental society. She retired at the age of 80.

When her great niece, Brooke Porter, said that she wanted to pursue a career in dentistry also, Jewel knew that times had changed and recognized a desire in her niece to serve others but to also own her own business. Dr. Porter has been in solo private practice for six years now and I'm proud to have been practicing with her for the last three of those years.

Cappy C. Snider, RDH, graduated from Tarrant County College in 1987. She has practiced continually for the past 15 years. Snider currently practices clinical dental hygiene with Dr. Brooke Porter of Azle Dental Care in Azle, Texas. She may be reached by email at [email protected].