Editor’s note: Frontline Clinician is a new RDH eVillage feature where hygienists share their various histories, experiences, interests, and more as health-care workers making their mark. In this installment, two of her peers weigh in on how Gail Weisberg, RDH, has had an enormous influence on the dental hygiene profession. (Want to tell your frontline story? Drop a line to RDH editor-in-chief Jackie Sanders: [email protected])
Every profession has its special people, from those who fought to bring the profession to life, to its everyday professionals. Dental hygiene is no different. From Drs. Albert Fones and Esther Wilkins, to the day-to-day COVID protocol battles in their operatories, many exhibit the true meaning of the hygienist as dental professional.
Dental professionalism is defined by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) as someone who exhibits the core values of competence, fairness, integrity, responsibility, respect, and service mindedness (see figure 1).1 Although specific to dental education, this aligns with the American Dental Hygienists’ Association’s (ADHA) Code of Ethics and is a good definition of dental professionalism. One hygienist who exemplifies the true meaning of dental professionalism and possesses all the core values and more is Gail Weisberg, RDH.
Gail graduated from the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene 45 years ago. She has been employed in private practices, clinics, and nursing homes, and has volunteered in her communities and internationally. Her international efforts included being an owner of a full-time dental clinic in Honduras. Since there is no other dental care available in the area, the clinic has miraculously continued to operate, even during COVID.
Many dental professionals have participated in the rewarding dental mission of this clinic. The program has provided fluoride rinse programs for thousands of Hondurans, established prevention programs, and provided a modern dental environment for treatment. In addition to her work in Honduras, Gail arranged for free dental care to be provided for cancer patients and veterans in Massachusetts and Florida.
As an active member in ADHA and the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists’ Association, Gail has mentored and advocated for many people, including me. She spent many hours with her mentor and teacher, Dr. Wilkins, discussing various aspects of dental hygiene. When I was a nominee in 2016 for the Esther Wilkins Distinguished Alumni Award of Forsyth/Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Gail advocated to Esther on my behalf. Although Esther passed away prior to my receiving the award in 2017, I know she was there in spirit.
During the last five years, Gail has struggled with a number of health issues. A breast cancer survivor, she has undergone heart surgery, endured broken hips, caught hospital acquired COVID, and had a stroke. She also receives peritoneal dialysis for 10 hours nightly (and has for two years). The dental community has rallied around Gail with support and prayers during her health crises. When word spread she needed a kidney transplant, dental professionals stepped up to be tested as possible kidney donors. Unfortunately, surgeries were cancelled due to health issues or COVID.
Let us all say a prayer today and on February 15 that Gail and her angel will continue to be a source of hope, strength, perseverance, and professionalism for many more years. Feel free to send supportive messages to Gail at [email protected]. Also, Patti DiGangi, RDH, who was honored with Gail in the Sunstar of Distinguished Award Class of 2015, started a GoFundMe page for Gail's enormous medical expenses.
- ADEA Statement on Professionalism in Dental Education. ADEA. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.adea.org/pages/professionalism.aspx
Frontline Clinician: Part 2
By Trisha O’Hehir, MS, RDH
At age 60, Gail decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree. Despite her numerous accomplishments, she still wanted and deserved a Bachelor of Science degree. She enrolled at O’Hehir University in September, 2014, in a class with five other degree completion dental hygienists.
True to Gail’s generous spirit, she became a mentor to her classmates. The goal of the six-month program was to allow hygienists to share their expertise, learn from others, and complete a research project that focused on helping people employ a specific behavior change to improve oral and systemic health.
Gail’s action research project focused on helping dentists and hygienists integrate a thorough oral cancer screening exam enhanced with technology from the OralID device. Dentists compared their visual and palpation exam with the findings from OralID and discovered they were missing precancerous lesions that could be better monitored with the aid of technology. Inspiring dental professionals to be their best has always been Gail’s goal through education and technology, and she has been extremely successful!
O’Hehir University (OHU) is proud of alum Gail Weisberg, RDH, a 2015 graduate who became a mentor for future OHU students. Despite her numerous health issues, Gail is always available to correspond with hygienists who are considering enrolling in OHU.
One assignment for OHU students is to compose a haiku that reflects on their experience at OHU. Here is Gail’s poem:
Sun comes up each day
To greet and refresh our minds.
Come face the challenges anew.