I admit that I am from the "older school of thinking" and did not even consider using a computer until it became absolutely necessary. It wasn't until my family relocated to Anchorage, Alaska, in July 1997 that I realized that I needed to learn how to use a computer. My daughter, Kayli, is very proficient on the computer after being taught on the subject in elementary school. My husband works in the information technology department at an oil company near Houston, where we now live. Information technology, of course, is all about computers, so there is no excuse for me not to learn how to operate a computer.
I have to chuckle at the possibility of a title for this article as being "Internet Oops," because of the many things I've learned. The one main lesson I've learned (the hard way, I might add) is to always save your documents before you log off the computer. I've never forgotten to save a document since that first one was lost - never to be found again.
I've been thinking about how closely hygienists are connected, yet we may not even realize it. It became necessary for me to learn how to operate a computer, because we lived 4,000 miles away (the distance from Anchorage to Houston) from what we knew as home. If I wanted to keep in touch with friends and family, the opportunity was available via e-mail. I have really come to rely on e-mail as a basic method of keeping in touch with those that I love, respect, and enjoy communicating with on a regular basis. It sure beats "snail mail." If I happen to run out of stamps, I can still send a letter to a favorite person if, of course, they have an e-mail address.
Another way that I found that computers are lifesavers for hygienists was when I had to retake the dental hygiene boards in Alaska. I also decided to retake local anesthesia at the University of Alaska. The computer was invaluable in preparing lessons for classes. My instructor, Royann Royer, encouraged me to put my lessons on the computer.
I also learned that there were other hygienists who would encourage and mentor you if you found yourself in the position of having to retake your boards. I met Jane Weiner from Florida via e-mail. She has written articles for RDH, and we got acquainted by e-mail. I also found that we have many things in common. Jane not only encouraged me, but also studied with me. She would type out questions and give me possible answers. I would give her my answer, and she would let me know if it was correct.
As hygienists, we have a whole world within a touch of our fingertips. I've not only kept in communication with Jane, but we finally got to meet each other and our families a year ago at the airport in Houston. It was such a unique experience for me, since I got to meet the first "online mentor" that I'd ever had. Jane's encouragement and support were invaluable as I took the Western Regional Examining Boards. Jane Weiner's e-mail address is [email protected].
Through my friendship with Jane, I met other dental hygienists via the Internet, such as Daniel Waskie in Florida and Amy Nieves in Nevada. They manage Web sites for hygienists who have questions or comments they want to ask or make as professionals. Waskie's Dental Friends is now moderated by Pat Buss, RDH, and you can access the e-mail community at www.dentalfriends.net. If you are interested in Amy's Web bulletin board, it is RDH @yahoogroups.com. Jane also introduced me to Mark Hartley, editor of RDH, via the Internet. I have written several articles for this magazine. A whole new world has opened up to me because of computers.
Not only are computers great for making new friendships, but they also are wonderful for keeping in touch with old friends, or ones that you've had for just a short time. I still communicate on a regular basis with my best friend from my dental hygiene school days at Caruth School of Dental Hygiene in Dallas. Her name is Pam Queal Karlos, and she and her husband have provided a "stopping place" for our family many times when we have passed through Dallas on our way to Oklahoma or other destinations. E-mail has enabled us to keep in touch with what is happening in our busy lives during our 25-year friendship. We've raised our families - I even have two little granddaughters - and it's been fun to share the excitement of my family with Pam. Because of e-mail, Pam and I are still connected to each other. Many of you can relate to how important it is to remain connected to those people that have become friends through the years and now are almost as close as family members.
Another dental hygiene friend, Kayli Clear Melendez, now lives in Chino, Calif. She and I worked together in a dental office in Norman, Okla., years ago. Kayli has become very active in the Tri-County Dental Hygienist's Association in the Los Angeles area. She told me that she first wanted to become a dental hygienist after watching me practice in that office. She asked many questions, and I answered them for her. It is obvious to anyone who knows me that I love dental hygiene! This mentoring process is such a sweet blessing in life.
Because of our close relationship in the dental office, my husband and I named our daughter after this friend. Our paths were not only meant to cross, but they also have run together time and again, even though Kayli and her husband moved to California, and we moved to Sugar Land, Texas. We keep in touch by e-mail and even realized that we would be in Norman at the same during the week of July 16-21 last summer. Kayli has a 2-year-old daughter, and we were able to see the entire family while we were in Oklahoma.
Computers definitely help us stay in contact with our friends and family, as well as make connections that we didn't know were even possible just a few years ago.
Now let's look at another Internet opportunity we have as hygienists. Continuing-education opportunities are everywhere, but I would even go further than that, and say to you that the Internet can also be about saving our professional careers. After practicing dental hygiene for more than 31 years, I had a number of aches and pains in my neck and lower back area, as well as my right hand and arm. I learned about an "ergonomics" course that was taught by a hygienist in the Houston area, Anne Guignon. Anne is the author of the monthly "Comfort Zone" column for RDH. Her email address is: anne@ ergosonics.com.
I took the course several months ago and was shocked to learn that many things we were taught in dental hygiene school are outdated for today's hygienist. I was so enlightened about some new concepts regarding purchasing your own equipment. I had to look at this idea for a long time and learn that I needed to "empower myself." I needed to get off the track that says that your employer is supposed to provide everything for you.
Learning about some of these new concepts for practicing dental hygiene was a stretch for me. I began 2000 by doing temporary hygiene. In 2001, though, I've moved back into a regular full-time practice. I had never looked at the concept that you could possibly save your neck, back, arms, and wrists by purchasing equipment designed for a hygienist. Chairs designed for the hygienist help you sit up straight and give you a place to rest your arms. Magnification systems help your eyes to better see the teeth and periodontium. Other will equipment help you practice hygiene more efficiently, as well as with less pain and stress on arms and wrists.
I was literally "blown away" by all of this information. It was new to my thinking. I can tell you that I was not prepared for expenditures of this nature. Change is not easy for many of us, and it was not easy for me.
After taking Anne's course and talking with my husband about purchasing my own magnification lenses and chair, we decided to "bite the bullet" and give it a try. Now that I am more "ergonomically correct," I have much less pain in my neck, back, wrists, and arms.
However, it was not easy to get used to all of these changes. It took time, effort, and encouragement by my dental hygiene friends who had already traveled this road before me. Many of these mentors were found on the Internet. I started mulling over my e-mail lists and discovered that hygienists have many things in common with other hygienists all over the country. According to many members of Nieves' [email protected], hygienists are suffering from these same kinds of pains in their necks, backs, arms, and hands.
I want to show you how the Internet can actually network us together into a small community as we help one another. What prompted me to write this article was the fact that I was reading e-mails from hygienists all over the United States and even other countries, who were asking questions of more experienced hygienists. One common complaint was of hygienists experiencing pain as they practiced. These complaints came from hygienists who had only been practicing for a few months after graduating from school, as well as others who had been practicing for several years. Because many of our local Houston hygienists are on the [email protected] e-mail list, we were asked to attend a course in the Houston area, as more or less "mentors" for these hygienists who hailed from every corner of the United States. Some found out about this course through the RDH e-mail site and others contacted the teacher directly through her own e-mail site.
I was privileged to be able to meet several of these hygienists last August. These hygienists included:
- Amber Garsee ([email protected]), Beaumont, Texas
- Charmaine Faircloth ([email protected]), Bridge City, Texas
- Laurie Ellis (skiing4321@aol. com), Boston
- Kristin Lundvall ([email protected]), Seattle
- Christina Diehl ([email protected]), Castro Valley, Calif.
- Michelle Licciardi ([email protected]), Ft. Myers, Fla.
- Andrea Scott ([email protected]), Houston
Two other mentors, besides me, were Bernadette Berretto ([email protected]) and Tracy Hooker (thooker@hot mail.com). The course was informative, entertaining, funny, practical, and enlightening. The hygienists were treated with pure "Texas hospitality." I have some pictures of Michelle wearing her "Dracula teeth" as she greeted people, and every hygienist present commented on what a wonderful time they had in Houston. On Friday evening, we were treated to dinner at Rio Ranch Restaurant in Houston. On Saturday, we were treated to a "Bubba joint" called Blake's Bar-B-Q for lunch. Those hygienists who did not have to catch flights out until Sunday ate dinner at Pico's Tex Mex.
I am a firm believer in the fact that there are no "coincidences." Things happen for a reason. As I got to know Vickie Baugh and her husband, Robert, I learned that he was a youth pastor in Temple, Texas. He told me he attended Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City. When I asked when, my ears perked up when he answered with "1987 to 1992." He told me he played soccer on scholarship for OCU, and I exclaimed, "So did my son, Daren!" I told him my son's full name, and he said, "I know your son!" We both just laughed and said, "My what a small world it is!"
Internet opportunities are right at our fingertips. We have the convenience of ordering dental products over the Internet, taking continuing education courses, and "surfing the Net" for the latest information about dental hygiene. We also have this wonderful opportunity to get to know - and even sometimes meet - other hygienists from all over the country. I have had the most wonderful time getting to know other hygienists that share that same love for patient care and expertise, but we also share so many other things as well. It gives me the opportunity to plug into another hygienist's life. I now answer some of the same questions that I had when I began practicing dental hygiene in 1969. Now it is my turn to be a mentor. With computer access, I can become a mentor to other hygienists who need encouragement or a listening ear. My friend, Linda Kontos, who lives in Chicago, needed a friend to just be there for her while she was going through a crisis in her life. I was happy to be her e-mail friend and help her through some hard times. We all know others who have come into our paths that we can also give a listening ear or a lending hand whenever needed. One of my good friends in Moore, Okla., has a daughter, Tanessa King, who graduated from dental hygiene school last May.
Tanessa has called me here in Houston, and it has been fun to answer her questions and be a mentor to her. We had the privilege of attending Tanessa's wedding in September in Oklahoma City. I have already encouraged Tanessa to come and join the several hundred other hygienists who are now on e-mail lists.
I've recently become involved in the Greater Houston Dental Hygienist's Society as the registration/hospitality chairman. My husband has taught me how to put the names of those attending our dinner and/or continuing education courses each month on the computer. When the meeting night rolls around each month, I can print out the list of names that are registered to attend, and then give accurate lists to the officers as needed. This information can be shared through e-mails, and it saves much time and effort in printing, addressing, and mailing envelopes to each officer.
I will let you draw your own conclusions about the use of computers for e-mail and for "surfing the Net." I have had so much fun just reminiscing over the many people that I've met through this little gray screen that just sits there and says nothing audibly except, of course, "Welcome. You've got mail." It is the words that come across the screen from other hygienists that mean so much. When you need to respond to someone who has a problem, you will know of an answer that has worked for you in the past.
We've all landed in some unique places in our lives, and we've had the opportunity to give to others. We were meant to be the most caring, giving, loving, and serving professionals. We chose a profession that gives us the honor of serving others.
Part of our profession is growing and learning as our profession changes and how we can gain the knowledge we need in treating our patients. We now have much more information that is available to us, and it is amazing to me how the Internet has brought so many of our lives together in a relatively short period of time.
Shirley Cross, RDH, BS, is a 1969 graduate of Baylor University, Caruth School of Dental Hygiene. She currently practices in Sugar Land, Texas. She is a past president of the Oklahoma Dental Hygienists' Association and is serving this year as the registration/hospitality chairman for Greater Houston Dental Hygienists' Society.
Editor's Note: If you want to place names with the faces and e-mail addresses presented in this article, they are: Shirley Cross ([email protected]);