Patterson Dental hygienist builds a career based on a love of technology
by Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA
Many orthodontic patients, especially children, dread their appointments. Other patients, though, are so fascinated with the biomechanics of their treatment that they decide to pursue a dental career. The latter describes Jana Berghoff, who is the corporate technology marketing manager for Patterson Dental.
The Minnesota native said, “When I was an orthodontic patient, I thought it would be awesome to be in the dental world. Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago had a dental hygiene program. I chose to go there because it had such a great reputation, and I knew I would receive a well–rounded education there. I really liked living on Lakeside Drive. Since I had already taken liberal arts courses locally, I entered directly into the intense two–year dental hygiene program. Once I graduated, I returned to Minneapolis.”
Berghoff recalls that dental hygiene jobs were plentiful in 1976, and she was enthusiastic when she accepted a position with a general practitioner. However, she quickly realized that the job “wasn't a good fit” for her. She said, “Practicing dental hygiene wasn't what I expected it to be.” Then one day she spotted a job that suited her perfectly.
She took a position at a stand–alone dental X–ray facility that provided services to a large group of orthodontic offices who sent their patients there for all kinds of radiographs, including panorex and cephalometric X–rays. They also provided study models, TMJ tomography, and intraoral photos.
She said, “We did pre– and post–procedure records. Our work was consistent and good.”
Berghoff's relationship with the facility lasted 14 years during which time she was promoted to a management position.
She said, “This job was a golden opportunity for a hygienist. As the manager of the facility, it was an opportunity to run a business. I couldn't say no to the position. I loved it there but ultimately, after 14 years, it was time to do something else. A local HMO was opening a TMJ clinic and I became the practice's administrator. After three years I decided I wanted to return to general dentistry and I managed a couple of different dental practices.
“My hygiene background was unbelievably beneficial because I knew how to work with the whole staff. I could help with whatever was needed. I felt as if they respected me because they knew that I knew what their jobs involved. I kept my license active so I could step in when needed. My broad base of dental knowledge made me more effective. These positions also gave me corporate exposure.”
The last would prove especially invaluable when, as she expressed it, her life then took “a whole different spin.”
She said, “I absolutely loved computers, software, and digital technology. When our practice bought Patterson Dental's EagleSoft software in 1999, a trainer was sent from Chicago to show us how to use the software. I asked if they wouldn't like someone local to do the training — and I was hired within two days.
“This was probably one of the most fun careers. My clinical dental hygiene knowledge was especially helpful when it was time to demonstrate perio and tooth charting and recording progress notes. I had credibility as a trainer because not only could I talk the talk, but I could also walk the walk.”
Berghoff traveled extensively across the United States for the next seven years, giving lectures on dental technology, training software, and the paperless office. She also wrote a series of three articles for RDH, which she says remains a career highlight.
She said, “Technology was growing phenomenally during this time and I loved learning everything I could, and then bringing that knowledge to the staffs I trained and the audiences I addressed.”
Berghoff, who is married to her high school sweetheart, has one daughter who is a buyer for Target Corporation in Minneapolis. She laughs as she remembers how the day that she dropped her daughter off at college she immediately jumped on a plane to give a training seminar. She is grateful that the positions she had while her daughter was living at home allowed her to be an available mom. But once it was time for her daughter to leave for college, she was able to “kick up her career, travel, and be a role model.” She said the new job was her “saving grace” and it gave her something to focus on as she adjusted to her daughter's departure.
Eventually, it was time to slow down the travel, so she “shifted her career.” She remained with Patterson but joined the sales team selling the technology she knew so well. Her dental hygiene background continued to pay off; she was calling on offices who could tell immediately she knew what she was talking about because, as she explained, “she'd been there.” She worked in sales from 2006 until 2008 when the company decided to change their sales model and eliminate the type of position she was in. She had been in the process of interviewing for, and considering, a corporate position when these changes were announced. She considers it amazing that the timing was so prescient and quickly stepped into her new role.
Describing her role as corporate technology marketing manager, Berghoff said, “I work with publications and key opinion leaders. I'm involved with the ads we place, marketing strategy, and promotional campaigns; I make sure our positions and products are understood by the people selling them, and that the materials developed are beneficial to them. I'm given a lot of opportunity to stretch and grow.”
Berghoff still travels, but now only about once a month. The products within her domain include EagleSoft software and CAESY Education Systems, and Patterson hardware. She notes that Patterson is the exclusive vendor for Schick digital X–rays and she is a primary contact.
Patterson Dental is a publically owned company that was founded 130 years ago and is headquartered in St. Paul, which meant she didn't have to relocate when she joined the corporate team. She describes Patterson as “an incredible company to work for” and says, “I would love to work here the rest of my career.”
Nowadays, since her travel schedule is less extreme than before, she has more time to enjoy her hobby collecting and restoring old Jaguars. She currently owns two, a 1959 XK150 and a 1961 XKE. Her husband is an avid collector and restorer of both cars and motorcycles, especially old British bikes.
She said, “I met him when I was 16 years old. I knew he loved cars then and I knew that if he were part of my life, cars would be, too.” His present collection of 13 bikes includes Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs, an Indian, and a vintage Harley. When she's not at a dental function, she is most likely at one of the local car club events, something both have been active with for 30 years.
Reflecting upon Berghoff's professional journey and accomplishments, it is easy to wonder how many other people would have had the confidence and self–awareness she had to leave that first general practice job when she realized the fit was wrong. She was intrepid, willing to learn new skills, and expand her knowledge in each new situation, and it is clear she was not shy about facing new challenges. She credits much of her success to timing. However, while it is often said that when opportunity knocks, you have to be wise enough to answer, sometimes you have to do the knocking yourself.
About the Author
Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA, is president of Finally Finished Press of Middleton, Wis. She recently published a cookbook based on Madison, Wisconsin–area restaurants. For details, contact her by e–mail at email@example.com.