Th 151713

The sky's the limit

June 1, 2004
Airline pilot still finds time to practice dental hygiene ... as well as a few other things.

by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

The sheer volume of Linda Parker's activities would exhaust most of us, but the San Diego hygienist and airline pilot just believes in keeping busy.

"When I'm home, I'm busy," she says. "I'm very fortunate to have an excellent education, and I believe in giving to my community. I've always volunteered in the medical and dental fields."

Linda Parker, RDH, tours a vintage airplane that was used in the 2003 film "View From the Top."
Click here to enlarge image

Linda started her wide-ranging career at the University of Oregon. She graduated in 1978 with a double bachelor's degree in science and health education. "I was accepted at medical school, but my fiancé didn't want his wife to be busy with medical school, so I changed my mind. I entered the dental hygiene program at Mt. Hood Community College instead, and got an associate's degree there."

She didn't marry that fiancé, needless to say, but she hasn't regretted becoming a hygienist instead of a physician. "I love hygiene. It's a wonderful profession, and I never wanted to leave it, but you just don't know what the future brings. I may still go to medical school someday. I haven't ruled it out."

Until 1998, she practiced hygiene full-time in a variety of settings. She left her home state of Oregon for Nevada in 1978. "I interviewed for a job teaching at a community college. I didn't take that job, but decided to stay in Las Vegas for a while. There was a lot of growth going on.

"I was approached by a dentist who knew I had a community health degree. He asked if I'd be willing to work at the Desert Developmental Center (now Southern Nevada Mental Retardation Services). They had no dental services for mentally and physically challenged people, so I said I'd help. I built a one-room clinic, and got permission from the governor to practice without a dentist in a type of indirect supervision. We drew up a contract with an attorney to do that."

Click here to enlarge image

Linda moved to California in 1986, and, until 1994, she worked in the office of San Diego County's chief forensic odontologist. "I assisted with a lot of bite mark child abuse cases, and we worked with the coroner's office. I spent many hours there attempting to identify bodies. It was difficult because we are so near the border and many Mexicans were killed by drivers near the border. It was very challenging to try to ID them as most had no dental records or had never been to the dentist."

It was during that time Linda got interested in flying. "I started lessons in 1990, just for the challenge, the variety. Living in San Diego, having a pilot's license gave me the freedom to just take off for Catalina, Mexico, Palm Springs, San Francisco. I joined the Armed Forces Aero Club, and got my private pilot's license, instrument rating, and commercial license."

A new door opened in 1995 when she won the Judith Resnick Memorial Scholarship for flight instructor school. (Resnick was a Challenger astronaut, and one of the first women in space.)

"That gave me a flight and instrument instructor rating, and I taught flying from 1995 to 2000. I went ahead and earned an airline transport license in 1999, the highest a pilot can earn. It's like a doctorate in aviation, if you will."

By 1998, Linda was working full-time as a flight instructor. Then, in 2000, "I made a conscious decision to become an airline pilot. The airlines were doing a lot of hiring at that point. Because I was highly skilled, with 300 hours of multi-engine time, and because I'm a woman, I was very marketable. Seven companies interviewed me. I hired on with a large regional airline because they're based on the west coast."

As an airline pilot, Linda flies four to five days a week, about 85 hours a month. She was originally based in Phoenix, and flew in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. When subsequently based in Charlotte, N.C., she flew mostly in Georgia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Virginia.

She now works for regional airline that is based in St. Louis, and flies anywhere between the East Coast and Denver. While she has flown a variety of aircraft, she currently flies 50-passenger regional jets.

"My job is predominately piloting," Linda says, "but I haven't stopped doing hygiene. I have a few offices that I call when I'm going to be home for a while, such as during the holidays. If they need me, I go, and if not, I don't. I still have Oregon and California licenses."

She also uses both skills, hygiene and piloting, to volunteer for the Palomar chapter of the Flying Samaritans. "I joined the Samaritans in 1993 or 1994, looking for a way to incorporate flying with my medical-dental background. A team flies down to Baja Mexico the third weekend of each month to do dentistry. Our group is mostly dental, but we have some medical personnel from time to time. We started out with just a one-room building. I actually leaned a chair against a wall and had someone hold a flashlight as I did cleanings. We used to dip X-rays in a toilet tank. The people there are farmers who didn't have any care at all before we came. It's a little better now ... we have generators and lights, but it's still very primitive."

The group flies down early Saturday morning, works all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday, then flies home. "I'm still involved, but because of my schedule I can only go about twice a year now."

One of her new activities is working as a volunteer Federal Aviation Administration safety counselor. "When a pilot violates a rule or regulation, it becomes part of an inspector's job to re-train that person, if re-training is offered. I also set up safety-related seminars for the public — classes on weather or mountain-flying, for instance, that are open to all pilots."

Linda is also a former EMT — "I used to ride ambulances during hygiene school" — and a CPR instructor. "And I love sports. I play tennis and softball, and ride my bike. I travel a lot, because the price is certainly right, and I spend time with my family in Oregon and Nevada."

As if all that weren't enough, Linda is also a writer. She has written dental health pamphlets for different offices she's worked in, and her articles have been published in RDH (1985-95) and in the ADHA's journal (1985).

During her hygiene career, Linda has been an active worker with the American Dental Hygienists' Association. She served on several committees in Nevada and California and did a two-year stint in the House of Delegates. When she lived near Nellis Air Force Base, she volunteered as a hygienist there every Friday for a few years.

In 1995, Linda was presented with the Irene Newman Award for more than 15 years of outstanding service by the ADHA.

"I believe in volunteering and in serving people," she says. "I worked for fluoridation in Oregon, for the mentally and physically challenged in Nevada, for child abuse victims in California, and for the rural poor in Mexico. I consulted with a dental clinic in Scotland just last summer. They're a little bit behind us, and they had questions about how they could improve their practice. I try to be a goodwill ambassador for dental hygiene all over the world."

Because airline pilots face mandatory retirement at age 60, Linda is already thinking about that stage of her life. "I'll need to decide then whether to be a flight instructor, go to medical school, do more with the Samaritans, or work in hygiene. I don't see myself full-time in a dental office, but I might work part-time or teach. I'm not sure what I'll do in the future."

Whatever it is, we can be sure Linda will stay busy and productive. She'll serve her community and her professions. And she'll be as happy and fulfilled as she is right now.

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio.