BY CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS
This month the spotlight in public health is focused on a dental hygienist who works within an interprofessional faith-based initiative. This column is the last part in a three-part series on faith-based initiatives in dental care, and it seemed appropriate to interview a dental hygienist who actually works in a faith-based clinic.
Christine Stephan is an accomplished clinician, educator, and presenter. She obtained her associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in dental hygiene. She has really developed an expertise for all of these roles. She has also published research and has been awarded the Gloria H. Huxoll Award. Not surprisingly, she has maintained an active role in her local and state dental hygiene associations.
Recently, I asked Christine some questions about her career.
Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?
Honestly? When I was 14, my parents told me I needed to start thinking about a career. So, I went to the school counselor and got the Occupational Outlook Handbook. This was before internet research! I thumbed through it and landed on dental hygiene.
I thought, "Cool. It's only two years of school and they make good money. I'll do this!" My adventure started as a quest for a job, but has become so much more than that and little did I know I would actually spend many, many more years furthering my education!
How did you get into public health? Did you need additional education?
I had been working in private practice for 16 years and have worked at the local university, part-time, as a clinical instructor for eight years. My plan-and I plan everything-was to go into dental hygiene education, full time. That plan did not work out as I had anticipated.
When the position at Matthew 25 became available, I contemplated, I sought the advice of friends and family, and then I prayed. I knew I was ready for something different in my career, but I did not know what that "different" should be. When I accepted the position, I was excited, but still unsure. I told my nine-year-old son that I was leaving my job to start a new adventure. He said, "Mom, this is why you did not get that teaching job. God already had a plan for you. This is your plan!"
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My eyes welled up with tears, my heart swelled, and I knew my son was right. This is the best career decision I have made. I love it, every single minute of it.
The position required a master's degree because part of the responsibilities included clinical instruction of students; however, since I already had my master's, I did not need any additional education.
What is your current position?
I have an awesome job. I am the dental hygiene coordinator, which entails overseeing and scheduling the dental hygiene schedule as well as recruiting and coordinating our dental hygiene volunteers. I also conduct dental and health education appointments, which are 30-minute appointments focusing on necessary home care regimens, healthy eating habits, and discussions regarding smoking cessation.
Additionally, I coordinate schedules, supervise, and instruct senior dental hygiene students from Indiana Purdue University, Fort Wayne, when they come to Matthew 25 for their clinical rotations. When I am not in an office or instructing students, I get to do what I love-provide direct care to patients.
Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health positions?
After having worked in private practice, serving mostly middle to upper class patients for 16 years, every day in public health provides interesting experiences. We see patients from every ethnicity, nationality, and walk of life-no two days are ever the same. I find myself seeing and saying things I would have never imagined I would and I am no longer surprised by anything I encounter.
What I find most interesting is the gratitude expressed by our patients. During my entire career, I have never had patients who are so grateful for any and all care we provide, even down to giving anesthesia and doing scaling and root planing.
Patients thank us over and over again. They bring us homemade goodies. They offer to volunteer at the clinic, and they go out of their way to find ways to thank us. It is amazing and so incredibly rewarding.
What type of advice would you give to a practicing hygienist that is thinking of doing something different?
You have to be willing to get a little uncomfortable. Change is not easy. It can be scary, unpredictable, and usually not in the plans. However, if you are not happy, you need to keep an open mind and pray. You will never experience anything different if you never leave your comfort zone continue to do the same thing every day. My dad once told me, "Opportunities do not come often; but when they do, do not let them pass you by." Go. Explore. You will not regret it. I promise.
As felt in this interview, Christine has definitely found her niche in dental hygiene. Another interesting note that is seen often in the dental hygienists who are profiled in this column, stay positive and keep moving forward. This can-do attitude is the most important part of advancing a career forward, which benefits the profession, and ultimately patients benefit too. RDH
CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS, is director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health Research" (www.pearsonhighered.com/educator), which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.