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Still Counting

Dec. 1, 1999
The countdown for the new millennium ends in just a few days. Here`s a five-step strategy to keep you charging ahead with your career.

The countdown for the new millennium ends in just a few days. Here`s a five-step strategy to keep you charging ahead with your career.

Linda Harvey, RDH, MS

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The new millennium is fast approaching. It`s time to catch Y2K excitement and channel it into your personal and professional lives.

What does the next millennium hold for you? Where will you be? What will you do? A crystal ball can`t answer these questions. This article offers a five-step strategy for creating a fascinating vision for the next century. In addition, a resource section provides ideas for researching and developing your Y2K plan.

Step 1:


The first step is reviewing where you are in the 20th Century. Reviewing your career history stimulates creativity and influences future decisions. Begin the process by making two lists. First, write down the highlights, accomplishments, or events of your career of which you are most proud. These highlights don`t necessarily have to be "prestigious awards." They can be anything that is significant to you.

Second, list activities or events that you wish you had experienced. For this list, consider opportunities that piqued your interest but the timing was inopportune. As you compile the lists, ask yourself what, if anything, would you have done differently. Contemplate any specific goal(s) that you would like to achieve. Do you want to rekindle your enthusiasm for your current job, or do you have a burning desire for change? Are you thinking about re-entering the workforce or embarking on a different career path? What is your vision for your future? Your answers enable you to identify new directions to explore. Perhaps you have always wanted to teach, work with underserved populations, develop new products, or expand the practice in which you work. Save these lists, since you will refer to them as you develop your plan of action.

Step 2:

Analyzing yourself

The second step is to conduct a thorough self-evaluation. You will clarify your identity and purpose. The self-evaluation analyzes your strengths and identifies areas for improvement. A personal analysis serves as the basis of an action plan from which you can recognize areas of progress and direction for the future.

Before conducting your evaluation, take time to establish vision and mission statements. Your vision statement describes where you see yourself in five to 10 years down the road. A mission statement describes the activities for achieving the vision. The two statements have a cause-and-effect relationship. Think of mission as the cause and vision as the effect.

Your professional identity and mission should strongly correlate to your personal mission, according to Laurie Beth Jones, author of The Path, Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life. Jones has helped businesses and individuals create mission statements for more than 10 years. She declares that a good mission statement should be:

- No more than a single sentence

- Easily understood

- Able to be recited from memory

Jones believes that a mission statement should not be too broad (to raise a happy family or to serve my patients, for example) but, rather, have a clearly defined territory of responsibility (to foster motivation and enhance cooperation for all whom I serve, for example). A mission statement gives you a sense of purpose and direction. Jones explains that a mission statement is the key to finding your path in life.

Now conduct a personal evaluation by analyzing your personality traits and skills. For this evaluation, you will compose two more lists. Begin by listing your top five personality traits. For example, are you attentive to detail, motivated, optimistic, or flexible? What have others told you in the past? In addition, recall a circumstance in which you successfully exhibited each trait.

Next, list your five best skills. Remember, a skill is the ability to do something well. It may be a specialized skill such as dental hygiene, or it may be a general skill such as writing or problem-solving. Again, identify situations where each skill was used, as well as the outcome. The idea is to link previous successes that you can recall with both your strengths and those qualities needed for your ideal career.

The above assessment represents two components of the Career Development Manual from the University of Waterloo. The manual guides you through a detailed self-assessment that prepares you to be proactive in planning your career. Additional self-evaluation resources are available. They include the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (published by the Consulting Psychologists Press) and the Campbell Interest Inventory and Strengths® (CIIS) (published by National Computer Systems, Inc.). The Myers Briggs identifies 16 different personality types, and the CIIS reveals areas of strengths and interest. Both are administered by certified instructors. The career counseling centers at community colleges and universities, as well as testing organizations such as Wonderlic, Inc., offer these assessments. For more information regarding these assessments, please refer to the resource section at the end of this article.

Secondly, complete the professional assessment offered in the Linda Miles Quiz for Dental Professionals on page 44. During the quiz, you rate your chairside manner. The quiz reminds us of key aspects of professionalism that are important in the dental office, as well as in all work settings.

Your image influences how others respond to you. If others perceive you as dressing too trendy, using poor grammar, or displaying poor manners, you will not be respected as an educated professional. Use the results of your self-assessment to strengthen your professionalism in areas that will support your mission and career goals.

Before proceeding to the third step, let`s review what you have accomplished. In the first step, you identified past accomplishments and unfulfilled dreams. Take a moment to compare these two lists with your vision and mission. Do you see any similarities or differences? How closely related to your mission are your previous experiences? If both are close in nature, then most likely your current mission is fulfilling. If your vision is vastly different than your previous experiences, you are more than likely ready for a change. The self-analyses in the second step highlighted your most notable characteristics and qualities. Develop these strengths in the third step in order to synergize your vision.

Step 3:

Still growing

Regardless of the career path you choose, take time to build a strong foundation that starts with personal and professional growth. Two techniques to assist you are networking and mentoring.

Networking with other professionals should be one cornerstone of your foundation. The purpose of networking is to establish informal business contacts, expand your knowledge, and grow professionally. Consequently, you never know what exciting, new possibilities will arise.

Extend your contacts beyond your immediate circle of friends and co-workers. Volunteer or join organizations that provide the occasion to meet others and foster professional growth. Be selective about the networking activities you choose. First, select an activity or organization because you have a heartfelt interest and, secondly, because it assists in developing your career path.

Three channels for networking include dental hygiene, community health, and business. First, consider joining the American Dental Hygienists` Association (ADHA). Associations such as the ADHA represent the interests of one group of professionals and help them make the most of their career. Membership provides avenues to interact with peers who share common experiences, interests, and needs. Furthermore, membership provides access to information on health care issues, research, current events, career opportunities, licensure information, and a number of other topics.

A second area for networking includes community involvement such as the cancer society, homeless shelters, or children`s health agencies. For example, do you have an interest in working with disadvantaged individuals? If so, volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Homeless shelters offer a variety of programs that often include medical and dental care. Perhaps working with children is your passion. By volunteering for children`s health projects, you may become involved with local, state, or federally based programs. Volunteer experiences often consist of participating on a committee or assisting with a project. The networking experience places you with others who have similar interests yet different professional backgrounds. A countless number of volunteer activities can be personally rewarding and professionally invaluable.

Lastly, investigate networking possibilities in the business or civic arena, such as speakers` groups, business-related associations, or civic organizations. Toastmasters International is a professional speaking club that provides an excellent means to refine speaking and communication skills and meet individuals from various professions. Even if professional speaking is not your goal, bear in mind you have an audience everyday - your patients. Good speaking and communication skills are important in all you do.

Professional associations with local chapters include the American Business Women`s Association (ABWA), American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), and the Medical Group Managers Association (MGMA). The focus of each group varies. For example, the ABWA brings together businesswomen to foster personal and professional growth through leadership, education, networking support, and national recognition. The ACHE, a professional society for health care executives, seeks to advance health care leadership and management excellence. The MGMA represents medical group practices nationwide. Their core purpose is to improve the effectiveness of medical group practices, as well as the knowledge and skills of the individuals who manage them.

Associations such as these may be particularly valuable if your interest is management or business. Often, it is possible to join at the chapter level only, thus saving on the membership cost.

Civic groups - such as Civitan, Rotary, and the Chamber of Commerce - provide excellent avenues for networking and interacting with community leaders. For more information regarding the types of business and civic groups in your area and their meeting dates, consult the calendar of events published in your local newspaper.

Add another cornerstone to your professional foundation through a mentor relationship with a well-qualified expert. In dental hygiene school, mentoring may have been in the form of a "big sister/little sister" program where you were paired with a practicing hygienist. The relationship with the "big sister" provided the opportunity to seek the advice, guidance, and support of someone who was already experienced in the profession. The word mentor means "a wise, loyal adviser." The term actually comes from Greek mythology. Mentor was the loyal friend and adviser of Odysseus. Author Patrick Mott suggests identifying a potential mentor by looking in your immediate work environment or professional circle. Mott believes "one good mentor is worth at least a year of tuition expenses." A mentor relationship is a friendship, and the mentor is genuinely interested in you.

Step 4:

Where the road forks

This step focuses on two specific career paths: The revival of your clinical career and nonclinical opportunities (see related article on page 46 for suggestions about the latter). The rekindling of passion for your current job includes discussing goals with your employer. It is pertinent to gain support where needed. Your goals will be more fulfilling and successful if they are mutually beneficial. Plus, approval may be needed in certain areas, especially if your ideas include adding new services, changing your hours, or purchasing new equipment.

The five avenues below will energize your clinical career. By using your experience and imagination, you may develop additional ideas.

- Any thorough renaissance begins with you. Be open to change by expanding your interests and broadening your outlook. A narrow focus or resistance to change inhibits your success and happiness. One way to broaden your horizon is to seek licensure or certification in complementary health care fields, including nutrition, neuromuscular therapy, or biofeedback. You may be wondering how to get started. First, contact individuals working in these fields. There`s nothing like obtaining firsthand information about educational costs, job openings, and licensure requirements.

Secondly, if licensure is required, call the appropriate state regulatory agency to obtain a copy of the state`s rules. With this information, you can determine the next step.

You may wish to consider becoming qualified to fill other roles on the dental team, such as an expanded-functions dental assistant (EFDA). An EFDA status allows you to build upon existing skills and add increased flexibility and responsibility to your daily routine. The scope of duties, as well as the exact title, varies from state to state. Therefore, contact your state board of dentistry or regulatory body to learn more about the legal duties and certification process for dental assistants.

Another option for broadening your horizons is to attend nondental seminars that focus on such topics as professional image, effective communication, teamwork, or computer skills. From this refreshing approach, you will find many principles that are applicable to the clinical setting. If attending seminars is too much for your budget, use tapes and books as an alternative. Large seminar companies such as Career Track offer videotapes and audiotapes of seminars.

- Next, survey your work environment. What about redecorating your operatory to better meet patient needs and lift your spirits? Working in pleasant, eye-appealing surroundings typically has a positive effect on motivation and attitude. If there is no money in the office budget to spruce up your operatory or if change is not permitted, at least give your operatory a spring-cleaning - especially if it has become a catchall for leftover odds and ends.

Incorporate new ideas that will be both educational and memorable for patients. Two ideas are educational materials and items designed for patient comfort.

Use a bulletin board or display rack for brochures and new products. Create themes for children`s dental health month or holidays and change them periodically. Have fun investigating new products or current research findings. Then discover interesting ways to share the information with patients.

Additionally, patients are very appreciative when you go the extra mile to provide comfort items such as toiletries, sunglasses, lip balm, goodie bags, or coat hooks and a mirror. Become creative by providing unusual comfort items such as aromatherapy, headphones, warm face cloths, or unique thank-you gifts for referring a new patient. Make a visit to your office a memorable and educational experience.

- Many states require continuing education for licensure renewal. Continuing education courses at local and state dental hygiene meetings provide the opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge, network with colleagues, and spark enthusiasm for your practice.

If your geographical area is not convenient for attending established meetings, consider initiating a study club as an alternative means. The format and atmosphere can be casual with either an invited speaker or topics presented by the attendees. In some states such as Florida, a study club is eligible to become a provider of continuing education credits for licensure renewal. Contact your state regulatory body to determine the legal requirements for continuing education. Besides attending courses, read dental and dental hygiene journals, trade publications, and newsletters. Introduce a reading library at work by sharing publications and articles. Sharing information and ideas about new products, technology, and procedures may just motivate the entire staff over time.

- Volunteering your time and talents for community projects can be very uplifting and enriching. Community involvement is less formal than networking, since it usually entails a single or limited number of events rather than an ongoing commitment. Examples of community projects include wellness fairs, walk-a-thons, oral health presentations, or visiting nursing homes. Each community is unique, and the possibilities for volunteering are equally as unique.

- Last, but certainly not least, revitalize your clinical skills. Besides traditional instrumentation, clinical skills include ultrasonics, antimicrobial therapy, and nonsurgical periodontal therapies. These modalities of treatment have all become the standard for providing optimum oral health care. If you are not using these techniques in your practice, then upgrading your skills is definitely a must. In addition to refining instrumentation skills, increase your knowledge level in key subject areas such as pharmacology, periodontics, pathology, medical history, cancer screening, fluoride, instrument sharpening, radiology, and new products.

Accomplish this by attending refresher courses, reading articles, talking to sales representatives, and networking with colleagues. A clinical career can be very exciting, challenging, and fulfilling. In the end, you will get out of your clinical career what you put into it.

Step 5:

A plan for the millennium

The final step in mapping your success in the next millennium is to design an action plan. Success in any endeavor is the result of hard work and preparation. In other words, develop an ongoing plan, follow it closely, and update it when needed. The goals and activities you develop in this section should mirror your mission and support the findings of your self-assessment, thus leading you into the direction of your career path. Follow these eight points to design your action plan:

1. Develop your personal and professional vision and mission. Be sure to write it down.

2. Identify your lifetime goals and establish short-term or secondary goals in important areas of your life such as family, health, career, education, and finance.

3. Prioritize the goals in each key area you have chosen. Address the most important goals first.

4. For each of your goals, gather support material. Determine who to contact and where to seek additional information (library, Internet, and colleagues).

5. Use a large desktop or wall calendar to mark your timeline for achieving each goal.

6. Carry a small calendar or datebook that allows you to fill in activities for each week that will enable you to move a step closer to your goal.

7. Start a notebook. Keep a list of all the tasks completed and the outcomes.

8. Review your goals with those who are influential in your life: family, friends, mentors, and peers. This will help spark By following an action plan, you will develop a strong, positive self-direction. This action plan encourages you to set long- and short-term goals and to work toward them daily. Continually seek reinforcement by sharing your plans and progress with others. Celebrate all of your achievements along the way. Use your creativity and resourcefulness to navigate the changes of the future. Plan now to capture the excitement of the next millennium!

Linda Harvey, RDH, MS, is a risk manager and consultant in Jacksonville, Fla. She may be contacted for more information or professional coaching via e-mail at [email protected] or (904) 573-2232.


Y American Dental Hygienists? Association. Career Information ADHA Online.

Y Integrated Quality Dynamics. TQM: Vision and Mission Checklist. http://www.iqd. com/visnlist.htm

Y Lindgren, A (1999, August 22). Revamped resumes can work in market. The Florida Times-Union.

Y Seckman, C (1998). Three?s a crowd? RDH, Vol. 18, No. 8, pg.30.

Y Waitley, D (1979). The psychology of winning. Berkley Books, New York.

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Venturing outside hygiene

The career possibilities outside of clinical practice are restricted only by your imagination. Many new exciting opportunities fall within six broad roles identified by the ADHA. They are clinician, oral health promoter/educator, researcher, administrator/manager, consumer advocate, and change agent. By no means is each role exclusive; many occur simultaneously in the same professional setting. Determine if any one of these roles correlates with your mission or any aspect of your self-assessment that was conducted, as suggested in this article. If so, you now have a broad category from which to develop your career strategy. Next, begin to explore specific areas of employment that correlate with your category of interest.

Some nonclinical options include insurance companies, managed care organizations, practice management companies, independent consultant, public speaking, teaching dental hygiene or health-related courses, pharmaceutical or product sales and marketing, research, veterinary practice, public health, political office, and lobbyist.

When developing a nonclinical career path start with these three strategies:

- Research the job requirements

- Update your resume

- Master computer skills

Certain occupations call for advanced education or licensure in order to be a qualified applicant. Begin your research by talking to those in the field, calling the human resources department of potential employers, and reading the want ads. Talking to professionals already employed in your field of interest can be very enlightening. These conversations enable you to learn the inside scoop about job requirements, the employment market, career ladders and perspective employers. Human resource managers can provide specific information about the hiring needs and policies for their organization. The classified ads in newspapers and trade publications often outline job specifications such as degrees, years of experience, and skills for various positions.

The information you learn from your research will point you in the direction of your next step. Keep in mind that today`s workplace is fast-paced, so rely on your networking skills and be patient, persistent, and polite when contacting these individuals.

An updated, first-class resume is a must. The marketplace is changing rapidly, so it is critical to have a resume that reflects current business standards. Look for fresh ways to organize your information and present the content in a manner that reflects today`s standards.

Be sure to focus on the main concerns of the person doing the hiring. While advanced degrees or certifications should be listed on your resume, future employers are most interested in your accomplishments. For example, did you implement a new system that significantly increased the number of recare appointments? Or did you organize a successful PTA fundraiser that enabled the group to buy special equipment for your child`s school? If so, highlight these accomplishments on your resume. It is also to your advantage to focus upon transferable skills such as significant volunteer, internship, and life experiences.

While the basics of resume writing remain the same - such as excluding personal data - you must be prepared with scannable formats and e-resumes. Thus, you may find it beneficial to seek professional assistance in order to put your best foot forward.

Good computer skills are a requirement in today`s work environment. Computer skills exceed basic typing and keyboard knowledge. You will need to become competent in software programs such as word processing, spreadsheets, and the Internet to be well rounded. Today, many dental offices are computerized, and possessing good computer skills is equally important for clinical and nonclinical staff. In some offices, hygienists are updating patient information, entering treatment plans, and making appointments while the patient is still in the hygiene operatory.

Numerous approaches for enhancing your computer skills range from reading do-it-yourself books to taking college courses. Many community colleges and universities offer affordable, noncredit computer courses through their division of continuing education. Likewise, it is helpful just to talk with individuals who work with computers to gain insight and practical advice, especially if you are just getting started.