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Frontline Clinician: How I got started, and why I’ve kept going

Jan. 5, 2022
In our new feature, read what one RDH says are the reasons she started in the profession—and how she keeps it together during today's trying times. Chances are you'll see yourself in her.

Editor’s note: Frontline Clinician is a new RDH eVillage feature where hygienists share their various histories, experiences, interests, and more as health-care workers making their mark. In this installment, Megan Randolph, BSDH, RDH, discusses how she found her fit with dental hygiene and the many changes she’s experienced professionally and personally since the pandemic. (Want to tell your frontline story? Drop a line to RDH editor-in-chief Jackie Sanders: [email protected])

Something patients often ask us is, “Why didn't you become a dentist”? The short answer is I didn’t want to deal with the business aspect of dentistry. I enjoy the one-on-one aspect with my patients to help determine the best possible personal care routine. After almost 18 years of full-time clinical dental hygiene, I still love what I do.

The longer answer: I was a junior in high school trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. My mother was a nurse; she has since retired from hospice nursing. But she loved her job and the aspect of helping people. I knew I wanted to help people also but I wasn't sure how to, as I felt I could be too affected by things nurses see and deal with. Plus I had, and still have, an aversion to needles and doctors. I knew in nursing I would relate a little too closely to the fear patients would have, so I took classes at our career center and found dental assisting. I found dental hygiene was where I belonged after I started hygiene school and at this point I’ve worked in a dental lab, as a dental assistant, and now in dental hygiene for more than 20 years.

That patient who will always motivate me

In the second year of hygiene school clinic, we started treating some more difficult patients. I had one patient who hated going to the dentist and didn't like home care. She was mildly cognitively disabled; however, after two or three appointments together we realized she did not like the taste or bubbles of toothpaste. Along with her caregiver, I adjusted how her home care and appointments were handled. She became one of my best patients and I cried when I graduated because I would miss her. The changes we made, and her personal improvements will always motivate me to look further into hard situations. This experience is how I found my passion and learned that not everything works the same for every patient.

My pandemic must-haves, professionally and personally

Before the pandemic, if you had asked me what I needed to practice dental hygiene, I would have said a patient and instruments. That’s since changed quite a bit, and I suspect it will differ for nearly everyone. My personal choices for most needed items are my ultrasonic, loupes with light, and voice/step probing with some modifications.

 I am grateful now to be able to use my ultrasonic with an HVE. I did not realize the aerosols that were produced until the HVE come into play. My hands were aching with all the overdue prophies and no ultrasonic. My loupes with light and a face shield, as you don't realize the splatter until you see your shield at the end of the appointment. Last, for me, voice or step probing has been one of the greatest inventions. I don’t know how most offices manage probe readings, but my office is extremely busy and getting assistance to record probe readings is tough. So the voice command or step probing is great; you can adjust the speed to your pace.

Another change since the pandemic is realizing the importance of self-care—you really must look after yourself before you can help anyone else. I know it’s easier said than done; I tend to put my family, patients, CE classes, and life before myself, but all that causes is burnout. I found during the stay-at-home order I didn't have any hobbies or my own “stuff.” My life was my kids, work, school, and more—I did not have one thing that was just for me. After this realization, I started to find projects outside of dental hygiene I have a passion for. Now I have crafts, I try to read more often, and I'm trying to get outdoors. I enjoy the balance of being outside, so I’m hiking, kayaking, and finding other adventures. Taking just half an hour for yourself can make a difference.

Remember that you are making a difference in your patients' lives. You have the opportunity to know their personal stories. They may not notice or acknowledge it, but you are one constant in many people's lives. You are the frontline clinician.