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One kind-hearted mentor: Online post reminds author about the value of mentoring in dental hygiene

Nov. 15, 2016
Eileen Morrissey, RDH, spots an excellent example of mentoring in an online dental hygiene forum.

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

Some of you may be members of various online groups for hygienists, such as those found on Facebook. I belong to several, and, while I do not post often, I enjoy reading the postings from other hygienists and the responses that follow.

One caught my eye several weeks ago. The post was written by Terri Browne Apostolou. She is a clinical hygienist in a practice that is in the process of a transition after the recent purchase of a retiring doctor's patient base. Working conditions in one of the treatment rooms is a challenge due to a lack of space. The patients being transitioned have periodontal needs that may have been previously unaddressed.

Terri posted about a day spent with a newly hired dental hygienist, a recent graduate whose first real world experience as a clinical hygienist was to work in these conditions. It was a very difficult day. Terri helped her out by covering some of her patients and offering assistance when possible.

As Terri sat in her auto preparing to leave at day's end, the defeated hygienist walked by en route to her own car. Terri rolled down her window and began to talk with her. Tears and a complete emotional release followed. To quote Terri directly: "I couldn't let a fellow RDH (especially a new graduate) walk away feeling like a failure."

As I stated earlier, I do not post often. But after reading this letter, I felt compelled to write to this kind soul to tell her that she has a heart of gold. One of the points that Terri tried to make to the newbie is that dental hygiene school teaches us to practice the ideal. When we get out into the real world, there can be a huge crash as we try to adhere to those same standards.

As a teacher in a dental hygiene program, as well as a practicing clinician, I can agree. To quote my teaching colleague Dr. Marshall Alter, "We must know the ideal and always strive to recognize and honor it as a reference point."

There are some who preach that we must never lower our standards in any way. Frequently, these voices of wisdom have not worn clinical shoes in a very long time, and the old adage, "Judge ye not," is applicable here.

What would seem more like common sense is that we should aspire to do our very best in our practice of dental hygiene, given our circumstances. The bottom line is that our circumstances may certainly not always be ideal. It would be wonderful, would it not, if the crusader in all of us could make needed changes. However, this is often simply not possible.

I know some recent graduates who are working in very undesirable conditions. Their collective goal is to gain experience and keep their eyes open for new opportunities. When the time is right, they will make the move to a more attractive working environment. In fairy tales, sometimes a few frogs must be kissed before finding the prince/princess. I advise such clinicians: "Get through these days by focusing on the good you've been able to accomplish and the knowing that you have done the best that you can. You are far from a failure!"

Returning to Terri's kind heart, here is what I want to recognize. One of the responses to her post was from someone who thanked her for being a mentor. This resonated with me. Mentors are special people who are paragons of wisdom. They realize that, as they mentor others, they advance further on their own path to success. In short, if you help someone else, you will better yourself in the process. Everyone is on a journey, and some need more assistance than others. Help another, and the universal truth of "what goes around comes around" will apply.

If you are already one of life's success stories, avail yourself to those who might learn from you, as did Terri. Conversely, if you have some distance to go on your journey, reach out to someone who could be a mentor in your life. I have. If there is a person I admire and want to reach out to, especially one I automatically think would not give me the time of day, I take a deep breath and then call or email that person to ask my questions. I have come to realize that these great people are flattered that I would value their opinions.

Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core... RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Rowan College at Burlington County. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.