Expanding school care: Author interviews Florida school-based public health hygienist

This month I am spotlighting a dental hygienist, Kim Poon, who has served our country first in military service and then continued to serve others by pursuing her career in dental hygiene. Additionally, she has continued to serve by practicing within public health and is coordinating an innovative public health position in the schools. She is a perfect example of figuring out ways to increase access to care for those most in need. Her career exemplifies the opportunities we all have as dental hygienists. This is what she had to say.

1503rdhcnat Poon

BY CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS

This month I am spotlighting a dental hygienist, Kim Poon, who has served our country first in military service and then continued to serve others by pursuing her career in dental hygiene. Additionally, she has continued to serve by practicing within public health and is coordinating an innovative public health position in the schools. She is a perfect example of figuring out ways to increase access to care for those most in need. Her career exemplifies the opportunities we all have as dental hygienists. This is what she had to say.

Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?

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During my childhood I was self-conscious of my teeth and my smile, which led me to being interested in dentistry. Growing up, my dental office was always a caring and friendly place, which allowed me to ask questions. I was able to observe the many tasks the dental hygienist did during my visits, and my interest in hygiene continued to grow. Growing up and seeing people who needed dental care, I knew this would be my career choice. My path to becoming a dental hygienist was using the GI Bill through the military that I earned while serving in the U.S. Army, which provided the financial support for my dental hygiene degree.

How did you get into dental public health?

I grew up in the Panhandle of Florida and the opportunities were mainly working for a private dental office. After working in dental hygiene for years and not having the option for health insurance with my employers, I decided to apply for dental positions that included health benefits. Additionally, I was interested in advancing my career into management.

A job opportunity came up with the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County for a dental assistant supervisor that included health benefits that met my goals. I moved to Tampa, Fla., and started my new position in public health and have never looked back. Working in public health is an exciting area for a dental hygienist, and it allows many opportunities for career growth and public service to the community.

What are your current positions?

Currently, I am the senior human services program manager for the dental program at the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. We have two fixed dental clinics, dental outreach programs, and, in the near future, a mobile dental van that I will manage and coordinate for the dental program. My responsibilities include supervising employees, dental operations, maintaining dental budget, working with insurance companies, clinical hygiene, coordinating with outside partners, and community outreach.

Each day brings new and challenging opportunities that as a dental hygienist in public health provides for a rewarding career.

1503rdhcnat Poon

Kim Poon, RDH, is the senior human services program manager for a county-based dental program in Florida.

Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health positions?

There have been many wonderful experiences since I have been in public health, but establishing our second dental clinic in an elementary school is most rewarding, because we have reached children on Medicaid who might not have received dental services. When I started at the health department, we had only one dental clinic location and the health department had discussed expanding to another location within the county that was in need of dental services for children.

With the support of the health department and the Pasco County School Board, we began the process of updating a full dental clinic located within a local elementary school. We have been at the elementary school for four years and now include two operatories, a sterilization room, and front office operating full-time. The dental clinic continues to grow each year with an increase in the number of patients. Since the school is familiar to the children and students in the community, it allows for ease of accessibility and comfort in coming to the elementary school for their dental care. Being a part of a program that continues to provide assistance to the community is very rewarding.

What type of advice would you give to a practicing hygienist who is thinking of doing something different?

I would ask what area(s) do you enjoy most about dental hygiene and encourage you to continue to pursue those area(s) within your career in dental hygiene. There are many other opportunities for dental hygienists to include sales, ownership, management, public health, military, and more that you could experience and excel in throughout a career in dental hygiene.

For those dental hygienists who are feeling trapped in a certain setting, please realize there are many opportunities. I have been fortunate to be in this profession, and I have to admit, times are changing ... gone are the days that dental hygienists had only one career option. Make changes if you feel that you have other skills to offer! 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 cnathe@salud.unm.edu or (505) 272-8147.

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