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RDH Clinical Recognition Program winner: Nicole Derby, RDH

Feb. 5, 2024
For Nicole Derby, it's about much more than teeth. Learn how her dedication to airway screenings has had a profound impact on her patients’ lives.

Each month, the RDH Clinical Recognition Program, sponsored by Water Pik, Inc., features a dental hygiene clinician who goes the extra mile in their job to change their patients’ lives, influence their patients’ health, and make a daily difference. Here we honor Nicole Derby, RDH.

A commitment to excellence

Nicole Derby, RDH, describes the clinical dental hygiene career as one that combines compassion, expertise, and a genuine desire to improve lives. It is this blend of personal connections, the opportunity to positively impact health, the joy of educating patients, and the dynamic nature of our ever-evolving profession that brings her fulfillment and a love for clinical hygiene. 

 “It’s not just a prophy; it’s about understanding patients’ unique needs and making them feel comfortable and cared for during their visits,” says Nicole. Clinical hygiene provides an opportunity to connect with patients on a personal level in a way that few other health-care professions can. Since we see patients every six months and spend one-on-one time with them, caring hygienists are able to build relationships and get to know patients beyond their oral health concerns, which Nicole finds incredibly rewarding.

Know a deserving dental hygienist? Nominate them today

Helping patients achieve a healthier smile or identifying potential health issues through screenings is one of the most fulfilling aspects of Nicole’s job. She takes pride in knowing that her work contributes to patients’ overall well-being. 

Patient education is another aspect of the profession that Nicole enjoys. “Empowering my patients with knowledge about oral hygiene and its connection to their overall health is a key part of my role. It’s rewarding to see them take charge of their well-being with the information I provide.”

Commitment to excellence

Nicole’s commitment to excellence means she consistently exceeds continuing education requirements, ensuring that she stays up-to-date with the latest advancements in the profession. It also means that she is not satisfied with simply meeting the standard of care. “I strive to exceed these standards with every patient I treat. It’s my way of ensuring that my patients receive the best possible care,” she says.

Nicole is dedicated to listening to her patients and meeting them where they are. “I understand that oral health is personal, and I approach each patient with empathy and a genuine desire to help. This fosters trust and ensures that my patients feel valued and heard,” she says. “My combination of continuous learning, mentorship, commitment to excellence, and patient-centered care makes me a clinician who is not only dedicated to my profession but also deeply committed to making a positive impact on the lives of those I serve.”

Mentoring other hygienists is also a priority. Nicole takes pride in sharing her knowledge and experience, contributing to the growth of our profession and the success of her colleagues.

It’s not just about teeth

Nicole’s dedication to airway screenings has had a profound impact on her patients’ lives. During one routine dental hygiene appointment, she noticed signs that raised her suspicions. She initiated a conversation with the patient about the importance of airway screenings. She explained the potential links between oral health and sleep disorders and how untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues. The patient was receptive, so Nicole began having these conversations with multiple patients.

Returning to Nicole’s operatory six months later, several patients told her how her discussion had led them to consult with their primary care physicians, and they had been diagnosed with sleep apnea after undergoing sleep studies. Their lives had been transformed by timely interventions, including CPAP therapy and lifestyle adjustments. Their gratitude and improved well-being reinforced the significance of Nicole’s commitment to airway screenings.

“This experience is a testament to the transformative potential of dental professionals who go beyond their traditional roles to impact patients’ lives positively. It’s not just about clean teeth; it’s about promoting overall health and quality of life,” Nicole says.

Professional guidance for new graduates

“Prioritize active listening and advocacy for patients. Listening fosters trust, enables tailored care, and demonstrates genuine concern. Advocating for not only their oral health but overall well-being reflects a commitment to comprehensive care,” says Nicole.

“One clinical tip that has made me a better clinician has been prioritizing ergonomics. Mindful ergonomics, including the use of loupes, a saddle stool, and hands-free suction, and incorporating proper stretches and exercises to help prevent and correct muscle imbalances to which RDHs are prone, has been crucial and an ongoing learning experience,” she continues. “This not only enhances career longevity but also promotes practicing pain free, ensuring sustained quality of care for patients. Ergonomic considerations contribute significantly to both personal well-being and professional effectiveness in the long run.”

About the Author

Kirsten Brancheau, BA, RDH

Kirsten Brancheau, BA, RDH, has been practicing clinical dental hygiene since 1978. She earned an associate’s degree in applied science in dental hygiene from Union County College in 1977 and a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Montclair State University in 1988. She is a member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Brancheau is also a freelance proofreader, editor, and writer. She can be reached at [email protected].