Beth Thompson

Remembering Beth Thompson, CareerFusion founder, with deep gratitude

July 16, 2020
What was Beth’s story and how did she become an icon in our profession? Shirley Gutkowski was one of Beth’s closest friends and shares a story very few of us knew.

Beth Thompson, RDH, founder and director of CareerFusion, passed away in January. She will be dearly missed and remembered by the numerous lives she touched and the careers she supported through her mentorship. She established the Florida Institute of Orofacial Myology, provided industry consulting services, corporate recruiting and placement, and was the editor in chief for Contemporary Oral Hygiene. Her knack for bringing people together made her a popular go-to person for companies looking for talent.

What was Beth’s story and how did she become an icon in our profession? Shirley Gutkowski was one of Beth’s closest friends and shares a story very few of us knew. Beth was a positive influence and a champion to dental hygienists and the dental profession. Prayers and blessings.—Jackie Sanders, MBA, RDH

Shirley Gutkowski, BSDH, RDH

Beth Thompson was a champion to dental hygienists and the dental industry. Her trek wasn’t easy. Today, the thought of your dad telling you that you weren’t cut out for college and he wasn’t going to pay for it is antiquated; in the 1970s, it was her reality. Behind his back, and before she finished high school, Beth enrolled at Indiana University and fought her way through the dental hygiene program there.

After graduation, she started to look around for ways to make a difference in the world. While she sewed her outfits at home at night, Beth envisioned an industry that included hygienists as opinion leaders and salespeople to make connections with the true decision makers in the office—other hygienists.

She built her résumé by maintaining high standards for the type of dentist with which she agreed to be employed. She worked on commission because that’s how it was done then, and because Beth was able to prove her worth to herself and to her employer with every patient. But during the time she was chairside and working in her first executive positions, dental hygiene seemed to be getting farther and farther from her vision.

Beth’s executive positions in companies like Butler (now Sunstar), Optima (now Philips Sonicare), and others helped her make small changes. Yet, day after day, she took call after call from hygienists in trouble. Bouncing paychecks, sexual harassment, cut hours and pay, insane bonus schemes, occupational pain, or burnout, she heard—and felt—it all. All the while she was an executive at these companies, she was still treated as if she were “just” a hygienist.

After several years, she was hired as a sales director at Scherer Labs. She started the first dental hygiene sales force that went door to door selling fluoride. With a very small team, she made a huge impact, and her team grew and grew.

At night, still sewing her own clothes, she would also spend hours of her time on “can I pick your brain for a few minutes” conversations with chairside hygienists looking for insights on how they could do what she was doing. The hygienists she talked to needed self-worth, the industry needed their input, and consumers needed fresh ideas for oral health. Some of the hygienists she coached in those phone calls went on to become today’s RDH executives.

In the early 2000s, Beth became editor in chief of one of the most important publications in dental hygiene, Contemporary Oral Hygiene. That journal was written for readers who wanted more, hygienists who needed ammunition to make changes. Beth believed in those who loved clinical hygiene and those who wanted something different. She went head to head with the publisher many times trying to maintain the integrity of the publication, and for four years, she succeeded.

Then, all the time she had given to hygienists calling her for support gave her an idea that has sparked a whole industry. It started out innocently enough as a major pajama party. She opened her home for a long weekend with hygienists eating, drinking, swimming, and hatching ideas. Those parties turned into CareerFusion. From 2007 to 2017, CareerFusion was the one place hygienists who wanted to find out what they could do with their passion came. She invited major speakers who would not only be a draw for hygienists but also for corporate partners—speakers who would really give back, be available for the entire conference, have drinks with the attendees, and walk on the beaches in the mornings with them.

She created an immersion event that acted as a launching pad for countless “fusionistas” and “fusionistos.” Those hours talking to stressed-out hygienists and industry people turned into a positive retreat. There was magic at CareerFusion. The ripples from chairside to c-suite was palpable, and comfort zones were left at the airport.

Beth Thompson is gone now. Her legacy is in the face of every entrepreneurial hygienist you see today. Everyone working for a company as an ambassador has Beth to thank. When you think you’re up against it in your world, think of Beth and forge ahead. The world needs you.

Angie Stone, BS, RDH, BS

Dental hygiene has endless stories of love and life-changing mentoring about Beth Thompson. I am one of hundreds of people who were fortunate to have been touched by Beth in each of these ways through her event, CareerFusion. The environment she created for growth and opportunity was powerful. She had a way, in the true fashion of a great educator, to pull attendees out of their comfort zones and bring them just shy of their panic zone. She understood that is where people grow the most. Just as an assigned task at Career Fusion would appear too difficult, she would offer words of advice and a hug, and tell her mentee to continue. As we followed her direction, we knew Beth would be there with a smile cheering us on.

Through my many years of attendance at CF, I was blessed to witness, and personally experience, Beth’s vision of empowering hygienists come to fruition time and time again. Those who experienced the house that Beth built don’t feel anyone ever will be able to replicate it. With her passing, we are now left in debt to her and will attempt to pay it forward by keeping her spirit and her legacy alive.

Debra Grant, MA, RDH

One evening, around the year 2002, I received a phone call from my colleagues Beth Thompson and Shirley Gutkowski. They asked me if I would be interested in joining them on a speaking tour on a talk show replicating The View, offering my views on alternative dental hygiene.

I was honored, a little intimidated, and curious on what this would look like long term. We sat down together for an in-person chat on what we wanted to accomplish with this tour and concept. We were three middle-aged dental hygienists with over 100 years of accumulated experience, all three of us strongly opinionated, but we held the utmost respect for one another, knowing our own strengths and weaknesses.

We came up with the title Earth, Wind, and Fire: The View. Everyone would ask, “Which one is earth, wind, and fire?” Our answer would be, “It depends on what day it is!” Beth spearheaded the whole thing, making the many connections with key influencers of state hygiene and dental associations, corporate representatives, sponsors, and people in the field whom she had known.

We began our first tour with vigor and enthusiasm that became infectious. We would walk out to the song, “Takin’ Care of Business” or an Earth, Wind, & Fire song as we were introduced. We even had a smoke machine!

We toured for several years, inspired by dental hygienists from all over North America. There were standing ovations and tears and laughter so hysterical that we would have to call a bathroom break. The best part of this platform was the freedom of having our opinions heard and sharing our knowledge from years of experience, both clinical and nonclinical. Some would agree or disagree and that was just fine. We encouraged everyone to speak up, especially the hygienists who disagreed with us. It allowed everyone to be heard and no one got bored in this seminar. That is still important today—as dental hygienists, we are still not listened to enough.

Beth had so many innovative ideas. One began with a “slumber party” at her home in Florida with key influencers from around the country. It was by invite only, but we found that it was not only a fun retreat for like-minded women, but it was rejuvenating and affirming of our profession. The party grew to where we had to rent extra homes; then we took it to different areas of the country, renting homes for a weekend retreat annually. This concept was the basis of what ultimately became CareerFusion. There was and is nothing like it. CareerFusion has created a multitude of careers and friendships. Beth will live on as a legend in dental hygiene history. She spoke her mind and made a difference, and for this I will be forever grateful.