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Our Mentors

April 1, 2004
Philips Oral Healthcare, the makers of Sonicare, and RDH recently honored the 2004 Mentor of the Year, Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, of Houston, Texas.

by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
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The first time I saw Anne Guignon, I didn't know her, but she lit up the room. She was sitting across the restaurant early on the first morning of the first RDH Under One Roof conference in Denver. She was the kind of person one couldn't help noticing — dynamic, charismatic, wide awake at 7 a.m., with a presence made for public speaking. I wondered who she was, and it wasn't long before I found out. It wasn't long before I considered her a friend.

Juanita Wallace, RDH, PhD
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Anne's like that. She doesn't know any strangers, and, in the increasingly close-knit community of North American dental hygienists, she's high on all kinds of lists.

Doreen Naughton, RDH, BS
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As the Philips Oral Health Care Mentor of the Year for 2004, Anne is thrilled and humbled at the same time.

"I don't do this alone," she says of her mission as a speaker, writer, and educator. "I'm just a clinician from Texas. I was in trouble 20 years ago with work-related pain, and figured it out the hard way. There had to be a way to share that information, and I couldn't have done alone. If it weren't for the corporate sponsors who share this vision ... if it weren't for Mark Hartley allowing me to write a column in RDH ... how in the world could I have gotten the message out? Who would ever have heard it? If no one had shared my vision, I'd still be in Texas, just writing with nobody to read it.

"Without help from a whole lot of people, do you think anyone would have ever heard of me?"

She is profoundly grateful for the opportunities that have come her way, and grateful also that she was able to walk through the doors that have opened.

Anne credits her get-it-done personality to her family, especially her grandmother. "She was certainly my biggest mentor. I saw her nearly every day growing up, and she always demonstrated that she could be more and do more. She started college in her 50s, and earned a master's degree in art history at 93. She taught me not to be limited by age or by thinking."

When Anne started out as a hygienist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry in 1971, she never expected her career would take this direction.

"I remember standing and talking to my mother at graduation, and telling her I wanted to get my master's in public health. 'I'll never do clinical hygiene,' I said. 'It's too boring.' Well, almost 30 years later, I'm still cleaning teeth two or three days a week. My strength is still as a clinician, and I hope to enjoy this for years down the road."

Anne's career as a speaker and writer began when she took time off from hygiene in 1997 for surgery. "I had seven weeks off with no pay, and was determined to make good use of that time — use it or lose it, I thought. God provided this free time, and I had darned well better do something with it. That's when I sat down and wrote the first continuing education course."

Her husband, Derek Kilimnik, was wholeheartedly on her side. "He was the person who said, 'You have to start writing. If you want to be heard, you have to do this.'" Derek respects her work and champions it, Anne says. "If he weren't so supportive, this would never work. He doesn't complain if I'm gone on a weekend; he steps aside for a deadline. He gives all the leeway I need, where some husbands wouldn't."

Anne is fortunate, she says, in all her support systems. "I work in a wonderful office. They're so supportive and flexible with my schedule. They take good care of me, and, without them, this wouldn't be possible."

With that first continuing education course written, fate stepped in. A friend who was a lecturer called about a speaking engagement she didn't have time to fulfill, suggesting Anne take the job instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Anne travels across the country and Canada, speaking on ergonomics and other subjects. Attendees to Anne's lectures and hands-on courses go with high anticipation. They expect — and they get — energy, fun, inspiration, an astounding amount of new knowledge, and lots and lots of free samples. They also get a new friend and mentor, someone they can call on for advice and encouragement, someone who will always be on their side.

Besides doing public speaking and presenting hands-on courses, Anne writes feature articles and a monthly column for RDH, and her byline is sometimes found in other dental publications. She contributed a chapter on ergonomics to a textbook recently published by Pearson/Prentice Hall, "Essentials of Dental Hygiene — Preclinical Skills," edited by Mary D. Cooper and Lauri Wiechmann.

"It's our responsibility as professionals to mentor each other," Anne believes. "We all deserve to be happy, healthy, and thriving. It's incredibly disturbing to me that people practice in emotional and physical pain. They haven't embraced ownership of their careers.

"I want to help hygienists by spreading that word. More people today are taking ownership, step by step. They take a class, buy their own equipment — every time they do something, it's positive change. We're becoming accountable, and we're maturing in our profession. We're really getting it."

In a 2001 RDH column titled "The Giggle Factor," she explored the idea of mentoring, and how it could be approached from different angles. Philips and RDH liked her thoughts, and developed the Mentor of the Year Award. The first award in 2003 went to Amy Nieves of Las Vegas, Nev., founder of the AmyRDH e-mail discussion list.

"I'm thrilled to be honored," Anne says, "and I'm thrilled with the other winners, because we're so different. There's no right or wrong way to be a mentor. What Nita Wallace has done in Texas, for instance, I couldn't have done. The really cool thing is that we all participate in each other's successes and support each other in so many different ways."

Nita, as friends call Mentor of the Year runner-up Dr. Juanita Wallace, began her dental hygiene career at St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida, where she earned an associate degree in 1969. After a few years in private practice, she earned a bachelor's degree in dental auxiliary teacher education from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was recruited to San Antonio's University of Texas Health Science Center in 1980, and has been there ever since, becoming dental hygiene program director after her first eight months there.

Subsequently, she earned a master's degree in higher education from the University of Texas-San Antonio in 1982, and a doctorate from the University of Texas-Austin in 2001.

Her philosophy as director of the Health Science Center's dental hygiene program was ahead of its time back in the 1980s. "When I was at school in the 1960s and 1970s, hygiene was tough. The program directors were stern taskmasters. I believed students would learn better with a positive environment. Truthfully, I've always felt students deserve to get a high quality education in as non-threatening an atmosphere as possible. That's been my call to honor for the last 24 years, to have a humanistic philosophy for my students. We treat them like adults who will learn and develop into the best individuals they can be. We don't just prepare people to be hygienists — we prepare women and men to be responsible adults and professionals."

Women, she believes, have a bad history of competition in the work world. "It's absolutely critical," she says, "to help each other learn on a daily basis and to help each other be successful. It's my job to set up opportunities for my students to grow as individuals. People have helped me in the past, and I help students now. I hope everyone is better off for it."

After working as a clinician and an educator for 38 years, Nita is beginning to look back on her career and take stock of it. "I think the reason I've been happy is because my profession is focused on helping people improve their health. And in my job as an educator, I help students improve their minds, knowledge, and skills. I've always enjoyed the clinical teaching part of the job, figuring out new ways to help students.

"Honestly, I learn something new from them every day. I'm never bored. I make it a point to teach in the clinic every semester, because it's critical for me to have credibility. Besides that, I just love pre-clinic."

Though she is eligible for retirement, Nita has no immediate plans to do that. But she isn't afraid of it, either. "I wasn't fortunate to have children, but my students have been my children, and I have five dogs — golden retrievers and a Yorkshire terrier. I have a lot of dog hobbies to keep me busy, and I love to read and to learn. I garden, growing my own herbs for cooking. Even in leisure, I learn something new every day."

She has recently bought acreage in the country, and plans to move there eventually with her dogs, to relax, play, and enjoy the world.

Doreen Naughton, educator and entrepreneur, has been mentoring Washington state hygienists for years. As the owner and operator of Dental Hygiene Health Services since 1989, she visits 11 nursing homes and serves just under 500 patients. (Washington state allows unsupervised practice for hygienists in public health facilities.)

"Because I serve an older population, I see what a whole lifetime of oral care — or lack of it — has done for people. I see how important dental care is to total health. My favorite comment is that no one ever lost a tooth because they're old. The key is prevention, and we, as hygienists, have that key."

Doreen also teaches continuing education programs, and is a faculty member at the University of Washington's school of dental hygiene, splitting her time evenly between the university and her practice.

When Doreen started college in her mid-20s, she intended to be a nurse, like her mother. But she married into a family that contains three dentists and two hygienists, and they encouraged her to consider hygiene.

"For one class assignment," she recalls, "I volunteered at a community dental clinic, and it was there I met my first mentor, Trisha O'Hehir. She taught me about hygiene, and also about mentoring. It was wonderful, the time she spent with me and the way she helped me."

Mentoring, she believes, is something one learns automatically from others. "My measure of leadership ability is how much I share with the next person so they can go on and do what I do." Education, she adds, should be a co-mentoring process, especially with adult learners.

Click here to view candidates for Mentor of the Year

Doreen has been active in legislative work throughout her career. She is a past president of the WSDHA, and has been a delegate and trustee for the ADHA.

"One year I was conducting an installation ceremony for state officers, and I said to the group, 'It's a real pleasure for me to install five previous students.'

"It's so rewarding that they stepped forward to be active on the state level. Success as a leader is how well you train others to step into those positions."

She also belongs to the Alliance of Dental Hygiene Practitioners, which meets twice a year and offers support to new business owners. Membership in associations, she believes, is important to reaching the goals hygienists want for the populations they serve.

Doreen offers consulting services to hygienists wanting to start their own businesses. "I get phone calls from all over, and I can feel their energy and their interest. I love their ideas. Today, the job of starting a practice is not as challenging as it was for those of us who started earlier. I can save them days of work with the resources I have."

A new direction Doreen has taken recently involves developing software for hygiene practitioners. "It's really exciting working with a developer. The product will include both business and practice software."

As she continues her career in dental hygiene, Doreen is encouraged to see hygienists working as a group. "There's power in numbers, and what makes our profession so strong is not only our common goal, but our diversity."

Some hearts touched by Anne

• Shirley Cross, Sugar Land, Texas: "I first met Anne in 1994. She was always very approachable and friendly. She always spoke to me at meetings, and I was glad I had her as a friend whenever our paths crossed. (Whenever) I called to ask for Anne's advice, she was always willing to help me. This relationship has completely changed the way I practice dental hygiene."

• Bobbie Brown, O'Fallon, Mo.: "I've been a dental hygienist for 25+ years. Never in my life did I imagine what was starting when I sat through that Saturday course listening to Anne. Anne was so generous with her time and attention. It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to work with her and learn from her."

• Nancy Brohawn, Newark, Del.: "Anne has given me a new burning desire in dental hygiene. After more than 30 years, I am now pain-free and have the resources through Anne to help with any further pain. I have always said that hygiene is 'in my blood.' The idea that I would have to find something else to do as I get older is quite frightening. With Anne's guidance and support, I know I can do anything. She will be my guide, my mentor, and my friend."

A heart touched by Nita

• Sharon Barbieri, San Antonio, Texas: "From my very first day at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Nita helped us to realize we had chosen a very special profession. She reminded us that we could directly influence the health of our patients, even provide life-changing experiences to some. I remember thinking, 'I hope I enjoy my dental hygiene career as much as she seems to enjoy hers.'

"When I decided I wanted to teach clinical dental hygiene, Nita supported me whole-heartedly. Thanks to her individual attention, my internship proved to be a rewarding experience, educationally and personally. From her, I learned that a good educator considers the needs and concerns of each individual student. She was always patient, empathetic, and compassionate. Her influence has made me a better person and a better hygienist.

"Nita not only talks the talk, but she walks the walk. As chair of the dental hygiene department for the past 24 years, she has positively influenced the lives of hundreds of dental hygienists."

A heart touched by Doreen

• Kerry Warden, Washington state: "I first met Doreen at a Washington State Dental Hygiene Association House of Delegates meeting in 1997. I was a WSDHA delegate, and she was facilitating a meeting for independent practitioners. Doreen was incredibly inspiring to me that day, and she remained in contact and made herself available for advice from that day forward. With her help and advice, I was able to run a successful school-based dental hygiene practice.

Doreen Naughton, RDH
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"Doreen's mentorship has changed my life in many ways. Not only has she mentored me, but many others as well. She has changed the face of dental hygiene in Washington through her decades of work to create legislative change that increases opportunities for dental hygienists to serve the public. I, along with all other hygienists in Washington, owe a debt of gratitude to Doreen Naughton for all she has done for our profession."

Juanita Wallace
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The three mentors described in the article above were honored in a ceremony at the RDH Under One Roof conference in Costa Mesa, Calif., in early March. Doreen Naughton, RDH, (upper right) and Dr. Juanita Wallace (right) were presented prizes by Heather Dazell, a representative from Philips Oral Healthcare, which co-sponsored the Mentor of the Year program with RDH. Anne Guignon (below), the Mentor of the Year for 2004, spoke for a few moments about the importance of mentoring in dental hygiene.

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