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2 public health RDHs discuss working during a pandemic

Jan. 14, 2021
Working, not working, working from home, working in other capacities: How two public health dental hygienists are thriving, not just surviving, in COVID-19 days.

 Crystal Spring, BS, RDH, LAP

I have been working in public health for the past seven years. I work in a mobile setting in nursing facilities and in school-based clinics through Smiles Across Montana (SAM). With the shutdown of many nursing facilities and many of Montana’s schools learning remotely, I have taken this time to reinvent myself and our program. I have been able to work in mobile clinics during the pandemic but not consistently. Our team had to become extremely flexible with scheduling. One week we were good to go, and the next week we had to turn around three hours down the road on the way to a clinic.

The most important rule of success for me in this pandemic is not to quit. As RDHs, we are used to having a plan and, in this environment, there is no plan. I do get frustrated and discouraged by some of the setbacks, but I am determined to use this time off from clinical hygiene productively. Early on in the pandemic, I knew I needed direction and a strategy, so I hired a life coach. I had a million ideas and stressors going on, and the time spent working on myself was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I spent my time at home working on improving our program, policies, procedures, culture, website, and our future.

During this pandemic, I have worked harder and smarter than ever before. Much of my time has been spent working on growing Smiles Across Montana. Things may be at a slower pace during the pandemic, but we are gearing up for a surge in new patients in schools, nursing facilities, and communities that we are serving. Our team is working together to assure we are using best practices and efficiencies that will help SAM continue to run smoothly as our program grows. We grew from a team of two hygienists to five full-time hygienists and four dentists over the past year, and I have no doubt that we will double if not triple patients and staff in the future.

There have been growing pains, but every new team member has brought another perspective, another idea, and a better way of performing to our program. We have had to make a paradigm shift, and in order to grow, I have had to trust that the SAM team was dedicated and ready to take over management of our clinics. With this release of responsibility, I am able to do what I do best. I have increased my focus on outreach to communities, grant writing, relationships with referring dental offices, networking with future team members, and partnerships with organizations similar in goals and the mission of eliminating oral health disparities.

 Lancette VanGuilder, BS, RDH

I found myself at an interesting crossroads when COVID hit. I am a private practice clinician, a professional educator, a national CE speaker, founder of a CE company, and owner/operator of an independent mobile public health dental hygiene practice. Most importantly, I am a true advocate for the dental hygiene profession. As shutdowns and mandates developed, I saw my world shutting down, doors being closed, and all my hard work and efforts come to a complete stop. No large medical or dental conventions, no more airplane rides across the country or long commutes to rural Nevada towns, and no more work in underserved communities, schools, or on tribal lands. I felt sad, defeated, and quite honestly, a little scared about my future. I also had many sleepless nights worrying about how dental care would be provided to the many adults and children in need.

One thing that kept me going was focusing on my why: my passion and purpose to help those in need and knowing that I still had a lot of offer my profession and communities that I love. There has never been a better time to invest in yourself and your communities.

Working in public health provides a tremendous opportunity to help those in need. I grew up in small, rural areas across the country. I have seen firsthand the struggle that many families have just to put food on the table or access basic health-care services. The public health crisis has shed light on the increasing health disparities among minorities, low income, homebound, and rural/tribal communities. Often, those who need health-care services the most have the hardest time accessing them.

As I have navigated through the pandemic, I have had to learn to rest, reflect, adapt, evolve, collaborate, and be patient. Finding new solutions—such as offering video conference platforms for oral hygiene education to a classroom or facility, shipping oral health supplies and tool kits, teledentistry for oral health coaching and consulting, private home health visits, and setting up a mobile unit outside in the fresh air instead of inside a shelter—expands the reach of public health dental hygienists. I can pivot at any time. I even temporarily went back to work full-time in private practice to help my own dental community recover from the shutdown and fulfill my sense of wanting to provide much needed dental care.

Working with collaborative partners who inspire me, like Crystal, has helped me embrace change, work hard, and have a positive attitude to continue to move ahead. The pandemic will not last forever, and while we have had setbacks, we can recover and be even better than before.

Finding peace in a pandemic is an individual journey for each of us. Those with a passion for serving others may be struggling to thrive in a world where we cannot physically get to those who need us. You are not alone! Your dreams should still be big and bold. Your friendships and partnerships can flourish, and you can still help others in new, creative ways.

Your communities out there need what you have to offer, and public health dental hygiene offers an amazing opportunity to bring your care to them, whoever and wherever they are.

Crystal Spring, BS, RDH, LAP, and Lancette VanGuilder, BS, RDH, share the same heart for our country’s most vulnerable populations. They are passionate about sharing their experiences and knowledge to inspire, educate, and mentor others wanting to work in public health or work for themselves and free themselves to do the work that they love. They have joined forces to offer leadership development, continuing education, and expertise in public health. Watch for exciting new opportunities to come. You can reach Crystal at [email protected] and Lancette at [email protected].