By Diane Chandler
Continuing education and lifelong learning are sometimes used synonymously. In our daily life we learn through many avenues: personal contacts, news reports and sometimes even through our mistakes. Yet when you consider continuing education you have to decide whether you are merely doing a job or building a career. If you look at work as just a job, continuing education is probably not a priority. You take only the required number of hours for recertification and do little more to grow in your career. However, if you view yourself as a professional, then continuing education is the path to building a career. Recertification is an opportunity to learn, explore new techniques, network, and feed your passion and curiosity. You read professional journals and seek to explore every aspect of the profession and perhaps even become a resource person in the office.
Over the years, continuing education in the dental field has expanded to include trends in the industry. Offices have expanded to become full service treatment centers accompanied by challenges from scheduling to billing. Through continuing education you can attend seminars on the business aspect of running an office with topics that include management skills, interpersonal skills, insurance forms/claims, billing and the account aging process. And if this is not for you, then read on.
If you love being the chair side dental assistant, take a course/workshop in new dental materials. Sometimes a handy tip can make your work easier. Good ideas can come from both the course and your colleagues. Remember that networking is a side benefit to attending these sessions. They also familiarize you with the latest research being done on dental products. Know what is currently being used and make recommendations for dental care products to your patients based on this research. If possible bring back material samples and extra literature for the office staff. This simple action really benefits team members whose office schedules do not permit them to be away.
A major part of job satisfaction depends on feeling healthy enough to enjoy your work. Several courses are offered on the topic of ergonomics. Something as small as adjusting the height of your chair in the morning and then again in the afternoon can make a big difference in the way you feel at the end of the workday. Some of the courses include exercise tips which can be done between seeing patients. These exercises take no more than a minute and can ease the tightness in your arms and neck.
Aromatherapy courses for the dental office are another exciting topic. Studies show that a pleasant scent can comfort and relax the patient as well as the staff. How many times have patients remarked that the mere smell of the dental office was enough to make their palms sweat? By using this technique you can create a comforting atmosphere to make your work more pleasant. The basis for selecting and matching scents is informative and fun.
Attending continuing education courses should leave you with a sense of empowerment and understanding. but repetitiveness is sometimes used as an excuse to avoid attending extra continuing education classes. Solve this problem by carefully selecting your choices; venturing into a totally new topic can be enlightening and enriching while returning to the familiar can bring new ideas perhaps with a different twist.
Moreover, repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. As you hear things a second and third time, they may bring a new dimension to your practice, especially if you add your experience to the equation. As you mature in the profession, simple things may be forgotten. Hand washing, for example, is taken for granted, but with the recent notoriety of the Norovirus, the routine has taken on a whole new meaning. Be prepared to use and demonstrate new techniques, remembering that these procedures protect you as well.
Continuing education should be an expectation of all professionals. In the dental field it is truly a necessity. Who knows, you may even develop a desire to teach what you learned not only to the office staff but to new students in a dental program. Your interests may also lead you to express your learning experiences by writing for a dental publication. In any case, enjoy the benefits and choices of continuing education.
Diane Chandler, RDH is a practicing hygienist who has been in the same practice for 20 years. She is also a dental hygiene and dental assisting instructor at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, Michigan. Her email addreess is [email protected]