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Firing on all cylinders in National Harbor: The RDH Under One Roof conference elevates attendees

Nov. 15, 2016
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, writes about how the RDH Under One Roof conference was inspirational to her.

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Having just returned from RDH Under One Roof (UOR) in National Harbor, Maryland, I feel like I am on fire! My enthusiasm for my great dental hygiene profession has heated up, and the flames have been fanned to expand my education and my network. It was like a reboot for my brain. I am refreshed and rejuvenated with tons of fresh fuel, both academic and practical. Creative activities such as the photo scavenger hunt added to the fun, the new Philips FlexCare Platinum added to the loot, and the chance to win a Vespa scooter added to the suspense.

The conference was first-rate from the get-go: The Gaylord Resort lived up to its world-class reputation, and the courses, events, and exhibitions were only surpassed by the connections created meeting people with similar (but different) backgrounds.

Stories abounded throughout the conference. I heard tales of hopes, dreams, risks, and the overcoming of fear and obstacles. In the "Evolve Your Dental Hygiene Career" session, six panelists told stories about how they have advanced their careers-into academia, the corporate world, public health, and other areas. Some pursued personal causes, such as my colleague whose child suffers from myofascial dysfunction. I shared the story of how it has taken me 25 years to get to where I am now (I never said I was a fast learner!) and how detours along the way have armed me with skills that are helping to shape the future I want.

In the workshop session of this program, I heard other stories about various topics: the frustration of feeling stuck with no challenges in sight; the fear of what is next after quitting clinical practice; disrespect from a boss who doesn't honor boundaries, even in academia; and feeling overwhelmed by volunteering more than is comfortable.

But I also heard stories of possibilities and dreams. Could we all not gain from learning to communicate our boundaries? Could the dental hygienist who has created a protocol for oral cancer screening turn this into a business? What about the needs that the academic, research, and corporate worlds have for more dental hygienists? The capable hygienist who loves to create order out of chaos might find that her talent extends beyond the operatory. It may take some soul-searching for the hygienist who is stuck, but I encourage all of my readers who feel like they are on a dead-end road to stop, breathe, and quiet the mind. You will be surprised at the next step that will be revealed.

The evidence-based academic courses and workshops at RDH UOR were powerful as well. Presentations on how microbes actually create disease, how our lifestyle habits influence inflammation, and the needs of patients who suffer with xerostomia are but a few of the varied and relevant topics that were available. Meeting educational standards is clearly mandatory for RDH UOR.

Many other presentations were interesting too. The story of how one presenter's subject on the recognition and dealing of mental health was triggered because of her own daughter's mental health stemming from autism. We heard about how yoga is scientifically recognized as ergonomically beneficial for hygienists. And we heard stories of what may be coming down the pipeline for hygienists: higher education expanding our options, portfolio creation (possibly modeled after Ontario's goal-setting professional portfolio style), and the growing movement for expanding dental hygienists' roles through self-regulation. Indeed, the future looks bright!

There were social events at the conference as well. Although my husband and I had other commitments, like taking in the sights of our nation's capital, the word spread quickly that there were enriching networking opportunities, some of which had complimentary beer and wine. No doubt many tall tales were told at these events.

The RDH View was an innovative, interactive event during which the audience sought insight from leaders in our industry. One hygienist, who is now a dentist (with a publicly recognized progressive office), spoke of the importance of hygienists in her practice and what she looks for when hiring. Additionally, there was a guest appearance by a family who shared a story about how the March of Dimes has affected their lives, giving us all pause to consider the importance of helping others.

The goofiest story of the conference involved me. Prior to Colette Carlson's keynote presentation, I was randomly approached and asked if I was willing to play with her on stage. I said yes. As her presentation unfolded, I admired this highly skilled and hilarious presenter with practical advice. Her subject-how we can learn to manage ourselves and our stress versus having it manage us-resonated with all of us.

The presentation was riveting and full of good tips. I questioned how I was going to enhance the message. Then she invited me onstage and ran through a typical day in the life of a dental hygienist, from the time we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed. She demonstrated the chaos that can characterize our days by draping me with more than 30 props as she raced through a verbal description of what we do each day. Props were flying, and everyone in the audience could relate to the hectic pace of the schedule she illustrated. I'm not sure what was funnier-the foot-long ears she put on my head or the boa around my neck to represent how we fall into bed at each day's end, only to be met with one more activity ... one planned by our husbands! If one of the techniques of stress reduction is to laugh, we all left with much less stress.

The story that I like best, however, is one that I am still curious about. It is the story of how RDH UOR began. This mega conference, with its many layers of events, started only a short 15 years ago. Approximately 90 people attended that initial conference. During another early RDH UOR, the exhibit hall was hosted in a parking garage. From these humble beginnings, a conference has grown into international stature. The 2016 conference had 2,100 attendees and more than 135 exhibitors. It was rich with many types of learning, and the learning did not stop in the conference rooms.

Although I do not yet know the full story of RDH UOR, I am grateful that someone had the vision. Without that vision of what could be, RDH UOR would not exist. The progressive mindset of the team that delivers this vision is a testament to what can happen when there is creativity, commitment, and care given to creating tomorrow today. RDH UOR did a beautiful job in firing up 2,100 attendees! I am not alone in thanking those who are involved in driving progress and influencing others in growing this dream. Its growth is a testament to RDH's belief that a meeting of progressive professionals in one conference (Under One Roof) would elevate us all. And so it has.

PS: The only disappointment of the conference is that I did not win the Vespa scooter. C'est la vie! RDH

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit engagingteams.com.