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Forward Progress: Yes, it's a football term, but it applies to hygienists too

Jan. 12, 2016
No season is won by defense alone. Dental hygienists need a team focused on moving us in a forward and progressive direction.

By Lory Laughter

Some years ago, jokes were passed between editors and writers about the reference to the word "passion" in an article. We tried to count the number of times the word was used in any one article. It was a fun exercise and taught me a valuable lesson about overusing a term.

That being said, there are few things I am truly passionate about in this life-one of which is football. There is much we can learn about life, family, and career from my favorite sport. My family is very familiar with my football analogies-so onward to gridiron analogies about our careers.

Successful plans and teams need fundamental pieces: a defense, an offense, a quarterback and a coach. This basic foundation is the same for a good football team, office setting, and our profession.

Too often, we seem to operate in defense mode and rely on our defensive line, without having a plan for when we have the ball. A good defense is important, but without the availability of a J.J. Watts, we need to employ an entire line. One person, lobbyist, or lawyer is not going to save our profession from every legislative attempt to delegate our duties to assistants or stop organized dentistry from restricting the dental hygiene profession. Unless we can find a way to acquire a J.J. Watts within our salary cap, it is past time to work on a good defensive line.

No season is won by defense alone. Even the best defense still leaves the team without scoring opportunities. As long as we wait for each assault before taking action, little ground will be gained while we fight to maintain our position on the field. Our profession needs a team focused on moving us in a forward and progressive direction. I have read and heard the argument: "We don't want to upset the dentists by making demands." I fully reject that argument. Professional progress is not about upsetting anyone or any other organization; it is about advancing and improving our own opportunities and situations.

An effective offense requires a game plan-an objective shared with the entire team to move the ball towards the goal line. When the team is unaware of the plan or a route being utilized, chaos ensues and ground is actually lost rather than gained. Plays are decided upon in advance and changed, depending on the formation of the opposing team. But the overall plan is set prior to taking the field. While our profession may have a plan (or several plans) for progression and advancement, those plans are not often effectively shared with the whole team. Large blackboards with routes and plays have been replaced with small screens unable to be seen by all the players. We are expected to run with the ball unaware of the goal line location.

While one player alone does not make a team, no offense is at peak performance without an effective quarterback. Recruitment of a star quarterback could carry our profession far. Quarterbacks use different traits or strengths to lead their team. Some motivate the team by positive reinforcement, some use scare tactics, and others just let their expectations be known and tell every team member what is expected. The latter leave no room for collaboration in thought, but lead by directives. Dental hygiene could benefit from a team leader who is either very well known by the public (such as a celebrity) or extremely motivational, such as Terry Robbins.

A celebrity type of quarterback could help us reach out more to the population. Our biggest advocate needs to be the public at large. Legislators listen to voters; they care who supports their campaign, and this is one advocate we greatly lack.

When most of the population cannot differentiate between an assistant and a dental hygienist, we are failing.

A good quarterback draws the crowd into the game. He or she uses whatever means necessary to draw attention to the team. A motivational quarterback could help unite the profession and help us promote ourselves more effectively. Showing the players just how much potential we each possess would replace complaining on social media and the desire of so many to leave their dental hygiene career.

Most importantly, in my opinion, an effective team needs a great coach. A coach sees the big picture and conveys that to everyone involved with the team. The big picture needs to be seen by the players, but also by the equipment managers, the administrators, and anyone with an investment in the team. The profession needs a clear and describable big picture or goal for the future. We need someone who can communicate and give directions on how we best reach that target. Although it is necessary for a coach to be no-nonsense with the direction given, it is also essential a that coach can read and incorporate feedback from everyone involved to best lead the direction of the team. No leader can be effective with a team that is not on the same path, or can't see the path for all of the trees blocking the way.

Complaints and murmuring are minimized when a coach can address and stifle those negative reactions before it spreads to the majority of the team. If our profession cannot stop and address the concerns of the average dental hygienist, we cannot develop into a cohesive force with a common goal. Unaddressed concerns or queries only grow into grumbling and upsetting Facebook posts.

We hear complaints and concerns daily and the pat answer seems to center on requesting the writer adjust their values or simply be quiet. We cannot judge how much expensive coffee a dental hygienist may drink and determine their level of support for the profession based on that one factor. If complaints cannot be addressed and the coach cannot lead the team to a winning score, the whole process falls apart.

Our profession is in jeopardy due to a lack of unified objectives and desired outcomes. While it is fine to fight for a mid-level provider, our offense can't focus on that goal while our defense is constantly on the field opposing those who want to pass our duties to others less educated.

We are unable to provide preventive services to those in need in every setting necessary, yet we are most concerned about not letting an assistant scale. Both are important, but one is overlooked.

While football is not life, the lessons learned on the field or by watching the action do relate to real life activities. It is my earnest hope dental hygiene can build a team effective in progressing our profession to reach well defined and visible goal line. Within our ranks is a J.J. Watts type defender, a good offensive line, an effective quarterback, and a stellar coach.

It's time to send out the scouts and recruiters to develop a winning team. While my favorite football team is out of the running for a Super Bowl victory, my profession definitely stands a chance at success. RDH

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She is also a part-time educator or consultant for American Eagle, Livionex, and Nuvora. She can be contacted at [email protected].