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RCC Influencer: Easing the transition from dental hygiene school to real-life practice

Dec. 1, 2020
Dara McConnell, MBA, RDH, uses her experiences as a new hygienist to help others who may be struggling with questions as they enter the dental hygiene profession.

It’s been 43 years since I graduated from dental hygiene school, but I clearly remember those first months of clinical practice. The rookie mistakes I made, the embarrassing situations, the questions with no answers, the anxiety, the uncertainties, the feeling that I really didn’t know what I was doing, and as the only hygienist in the office, having no one to turn to for advice . . . not a great start to my career.

Today’s hygienists have their own issues when they begin their careers, but they have one advantage that I didn’t have back in 1977. With the internet, they have a world of support at their fingertips. Dara McConnell, MBA, RDH, provides new hygienists with one of those sources of support.

As a 2016 graduate, McConnell is still fairly new to the dental hygiene career, and like me, she began with doubts, questions, and anxiety. As she puts it, she “faked confidence” in her work as a temporary hygienist in several practices across Virginia and Maryland. She provided the best care she knew how, and then went home and did her research, seeking answers to the questions that arose during the day. She used the internet, her textbooks, and she contacted fellow classmates.

As a temp hygienist, McConnell was exposed to many different office cultures and practices, and she was constantly learning new things from each office. After about two years of temping, she realized that every recent graduate must have the same questions she did, and with the diversity that she experienced in dental offices early on, she had acquired helpful information to share.

McConnell states, “I started a dental Instagram page, @rdhdara, where I make short, informative posts about quick tips or tricks in the office. It could be about a new dental product making the RDH life easier, a straightforward way to explain the oral/systemic connection, or encouragement during a pandemic. Basically, I am using Instagram as a small platform to provide information I wish I had when I was a new grad, stating dental-related information in a way that I think, ‘Wow, why didn’t anyone ever say it like that to me before?’ My page is still new, and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use Instagram and reach a wider audience. But that is my basic goal—to provide hygienists with little tips to make their days easier and help patients understand the importance of oral hygiene.”

Currently, McConnell uses only Instagram, but she plans to expand to Facebook in the future. Her followers enjoy her “Trivia Tuesday” dental questions, and many hygiene students and professionals have sent her messages of thanks for tips that have made their lives easier.

I have come a long way since graduation from dental hygiene school in 1977, and I’m a far better hygienist than I was then, but I have found that the learning doesn’t end when we receive our diplomas. It’s a lifelong process. But today, thanks to hygienists like Dara McConnell, it is much easier to learn from one another. Follow McConnell on Instagram, @rdhdara, and make your job a little easier and your day a little more fun!

KIRSTEN BRANCHEAU, BA, RDH, has been practicing clinical dental hygiene since 1978. She earned an associate degree in applied science in dental hygiene from Union County College in 1977 and a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Montclair State University in 1988. She is a member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Brancheau is also a freelance proofreader, editor, and writer. She can be reached at [email protected].