As the close of this year’s National Dental Hygiene Month, sponsored by Colgate, draws closer, ADHA turns the focus to advocacy. Be sure to attend this free webinar, “Advocacy in action: An update on the dentist and dental hygienist compact,” on Tuesday, October 24, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. CST, and learn how this model can make it easier to practice across state lines.
Understanding and being actively involved in advocacy efforts can increase networking opportunities and expose hygienists to innovative ideas that contribute to the continued growth and evolution of our profession. As elite health-care providers, we are uniquely positioned to advocate not only for oral health, but also for the overall health and well-being of our patients and ourselves.
Championing patient-centered care bridges gaps in oral health care access, influences policy and legislation, enhances professional recognition, fosters personal growth, and helps dental hygienists become agents of positive change in oral health care.
Here are some strategies to maximize your impact for your patients, your profession, and yourself!
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Advocating for your patients
- Prioritize ethical and patient-centered care. Ensure that patients’ well-being and needs are at the forefront of your practice. Listen actively, communicate clearly, and involve patients in decision-making. When patients feel heard, respected, and involved in their own health-care decisions, it can lead to more positive experiences and improved overall health.
- Focus on prevention. Preventive care is fundamental to health care. Dental hygienists can advocate for preventive measures such as vaccinations, screenings, and healthy lifestyle choices.
- Address disparities. Be aware of social determinants of health that affect your patients. Health-care providers who engage in advocacy can address these disparities by working to make cost-effective, convenient, and high-quality care available to all.
- Continuously improve. Seek opportunities for professional development and training to enhance your skills to provide better care to your patients. The 2024 ADHA annual conference will be held in New Orleans in July 2024, and it’s the perfect opportunity to learn and grow while networking with fellow advocates from across the country.
Advocating for your profession
- Stay informed. Keep up to date with the latest developments, research, and trends in your field by listening to podcasts or reading publications such as this one and the Journal of Dental Hygiene.
- Join professional organizations. By maintaining a membership in the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, you’re staying informed and supporting advocacy efforts in your state and across the country.
- Participate in advocacy efforts. Getting involved in lobbying, outreach, or awareness campaigns organized by your professional associations can include writing letters, attending conferences, drafting bill requests, meeting with legislators, or providing testimony during legislative sessions. Increased recognition in public forums leads to greater respect and appreciation for the profession.
- Find a mentor … be a mentor. Help others navigate their careers. Check out ADHA’s mentor match.
- Promote autonomy and scope of practice. Through legislative efforts and lobbying, dental hygienists can work toward securing the legal authority to perform a broader range of services independently.
Advocating for yourself
- Know your worth. Understand your strengths, skills, and contributions to the profession.
- Set goals. Identify what you want and need in your career.
- Communicate. Clearly express your needs, concerns, and ideas.
- Assess. Seek constructive feedback and routinely assess yourself.
- Prioritize self-care. Health-care professions can be emotionally taxing, leading to burnout among providers. Advocacy can help address this issue by raising awareness of the importance of mental and physical health for health-care workers. Learn more about the eight pillars of wellness at healthandwellnesshub.
Engaging in advocacy has for me been the highlight of my 28-year career. It has allowed me to expand my skill set beyond clinical expertise to help transform health care and evolve as a dental hygienist, loving and investing in my career. My involvement with the ADHA has given me a professional home, a nationwide support system, and a platform to be involved in advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.
Successful advocacy requires resilience, persistence, and a commitment to the well-being of yourself, your profession, and your patients. By taking initiative and collaborating with others, you can have a meaningful impact now and on the generations to follow.