Pardon the interruption, but we would like to reflect on perhaps the most important part of RDH magazine's past. As the magazine's third editor, I have been very blessed to work from a foundation established by the magazine's first two editors - Irene Woodall (1981-1993) and Kathy Witherspoon (1993-1995). Irene passed away on April 22.
The news about her death occurred just after the deadlines for the May issue of RDH. The notification did appear immediately online at DentistryIQ.com. Although Irene would have done just fine with digital media, RDH magazine is her legacy. So we need to pause and acknowledge her contributions to RDH magazine specifically as well as to the dental hygiene profession overall.
RDH was initially published out of Waco, Texas, and Irene worked closely with the magazine's first publisher, Craig Stevens, to launch a completely different type of dental hygiene publication. I shared online a short section of her very first Editor's Note, and I'd like to share it here too.
She wrote, "The purpose of this professional magazine is to help you enjoy your unique position as a hygienist by hearing from your colleagues across the country as they describe their experiences, and to provide you with ideas and self-help tools for professional and personal growth."
To say that this sentence has guided RDH during the ensuing 34 years would be an understatement. Her commentaries after that introduction turned into monthly challenges for the profession to elevate itself. They were often controversial. She did, for example, advocate such innovations as independent practice for dental hygienists to improve access to care. That's the kind of spin we hear all the time now. But in the 1980s, Irene captivated an entire nation of dental hygienists who wanted to see what would happen if they took the next step to improve oral health care.
In addition to the online article at the websites affiliated with RDH, Maria Perno Goldie also noted Irene's passing in the May 1 issue of RDH eVillage Focus:
"It is with sadness that I announce the passing of Irene Woodall, RDH, PhD. I met Irene in the early 1990s when she was preparing to move to California to work for Oral-B, and I was the American Dental Hygienists' Association District XI Trustee. Irene has been in a long-term care facility for many years after suffering a brain aneurysm and a stroke in 1993 in Colorado while skiing. Irene is survived by two daughters, Charlotte Resek and Amanda Woodall. Irene was a true inspiration, a leader in the profession, and will be missed by many."
I also asked the veteran columnists for RDH if they would like to share any memories in this space. Again, I realize that these observations will not change your life in any immediate sense. But it's important to me to give you a glimpse of the impact Irene had on so many dental hygienists during the 1980s and 1990s.
JoAnn Gurenlian, author of "Looking Ahead" column
Irene was the keynote speaker at the ADHA Annual Session when I was the association's president in 1990-1991. She wowed the audience with her presentation and challenged all of us to think beyond the usual, to find our passion, and to strive for excellence in what we do. She received a standing ovation. I remember being so grateful and proud to have a colleague be the keynote speaker, and to be able to witness her inspire us.
When my term as president of ADHA had ended, Irene was working at Vipont and invited me and faculty members at Thomas Jefferson University Department of Dental Hygiene to be part of a clinical research study. We were testing a mouthrinse on patients with gingivitis. We had a protocol to follow, had calibrated the examiners, recruited the patients, and launched the study. As data were collected, we sent it off to Irene at Vipont.
Several weeks later, Irene called me to say that the data was not what was expected. There did not appear to be a difference between the control and experimental groups. She flew to Thomas Jefferson University and met with our research team to try to identify the problem. We reviewed the protocol and agreed that we were following it exactly as delineated. We reviewed the examiners' techniques and agreed they were appropriate. We checked the product storage to make sure there were no issues with temperature changes, etc.
As we sat at the conference room table trying to figure out what was wrong, one of our research team members inquired whether it was possible that both of our groups were getting the placebo mouthrinse. Irene could not fathom that, but you could just see the wheels turning in her head, and that sparkle she always got in her eyes when she was processing something that might be possible.
Irene called me several days later after investigating the issue further and discovered that the person who was responsible for sending us the products had indeed become confused and sent us placebo mouthrinse for both the control and experimental groups! Anyone else but Irene would have been devastated and possibly fired. Somehow Irene convinced the powers that be to move forward.
She accepted the situation for what it was and handled it with grace. To this day I use this story with my students to illustrate how even with the best plans things can go awry, but how we choose to handle the situation makes all the difference.
When Irene had her aneurysm and stroke, we were all devastated. However, I watched Irene and her family work together. She retained the same spirit and love of life. Irene was blessed with two beautiful daughters who gave her care, joy, and love for 22 more years.
She was blessed and so were we who knew her. She will be missed by the dental hygiene community. She will be treasured by her family and friends always.
Ann-Marie DePalma, author of "From the Podium" column
As a new hygienist many years ago, I had the opportunity to attend one of Irene's CE programs. RDH magazine had recently been launched, and Irene was presenting one of her inspiring and educational programs and discussed the new venture, a magazine devoted to hygienists. It was hard to envision then what RDH would become today and that I would later be a part of it.
Thank you, Irene, for having the determination and leadership to advance and innovate the dental hygiene profession.
Christine Nathe, author of "Public Health column"
I met Irene when I was a new graduate student in dental hygiene. I was at a "Marketing Dental Hygiene" meeting that the ADHA sponsored in Chicago. I was able to hear her speak and then talk with her later, and I was struck by how approachable and bright she was in person.
I had read her editorials in RDH and she seemed to write about things that were always thought-provoking for me, so to meet her in person and realize that the person, Irene Woodall, was even brighter, had so many awesome ideas, and was even more inspiring is something that I will never forgot. She truly had a passion for dental hygiene and she used that passion to advance our profession!
Lynne Slim, author of "Periodontal Therapy" column
As one of dental hygiene's great leaders, Irene Woodall can best be described as gutsy and insightful. I remember once writing to her and expressing my concerns about the future of the profession. She understood the stranglehold that organized dentistry had on our profession, and we talked about it at great length.
Like many other leaders, she recognized the need for autonomy, and she loved to challenge the status quo in her column. Her vision of a dental hygiene profession with autonomy and control over dental hygiene practice is a goal we must hang on to with all of our might. For those dental hygienists around the United States who have achieved this goal, Irene already knows that they are experiencing increased career satisfaction and improved patient outcomes. Rest in peace, Irene, and thanks for your fearless and visionary words.
Irene Woodall served as RDH magazine's first editor from 1981 to 1993.
Thank you, RDH readers, for allowing me to acknowledge what Irene has accomplished for the dental hygiene profession. As mentioned earlier, she also laid the foundation for RDH magazine's role in the profession, and I remain grateful for her leadership.