Seminars remain an excellent method for upgrading your professional knowledge, but other media can keep you updated too.
Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD
Before writing this article on continuing education, I gathered information on the resources available to dental hygiene professionals. In the midst of my research, I had to return to my hometown in Wichita, Kansas, to care for my mother who had just had a stroke. This was very traumatic for my family because our mother, at the age of 83, had rarely been ill. As I sat in the intensive care unit watching the nurses, male and female, minister to my mother, I began thinking about the importance of their knowledge and commitment to care. I did not want an unskilled nurse or doctor caring for my mother. I did not want an uncommitted health professional overseeing her critical needs. Our family was fortunate; Mother received excellent treatment and care. Her recovery seemed like a miracle.
As I returned to the article, I was reminded of the commitment I had witnessed. This commitment reminded me of the Dental Hygiene Oath I had taken many years ago, the same oath I more recently remembered my students taking after I became a dental hygiene educator at Wichita State University.
As I read the oath, I was inspired, once again, by its simplicity and importance.
"In my practice as a dental hygienist, I affirm my personal and professional commitment to improve the oral health of the public, to advance the art and science of dental hygiene, and to promote high standards of quality care.
"I pledge continually to improve my professional knowledge and skills, to render a full measure of service to each patient entrusted to my care, and to uphold the highest standards of professional competence and personal conduct in the interests of the dental hygiene profession and the public it serves."
Maybe my perception of the oath seemed unusually heightened because of my mother`s health crisis, but somehow I was sure that dental hygienists always had their patients` best interest in mind. And certainly, the pledge to continually improve professional knowledge and skills will be a constant challenge to all of us.
For those of you who live in cities where continuing dental education is readily available, the challenge is more easily met. Yet, for those dental hygienists who live in rural areas of the country, that challenge can be a constant worry, especially for working mothers and fathers with children at home. Add to this the expenses associated with out-of-town courses, and continuing professional education can become a burden at times.
There are options, though, for many of you who struggle with the commitment to continually update your professional knowledge and skills in order to better serve your patients, as well as meet state requirements for relicensure.
Seeking information with little time
How do dental hygienists obtain information about their profession? One study indicated that the main sources for obtaining professional information were from asking colleagues and browsing through journals, books, and newsletters. This research also found the most frequent sources of professional development and job-related information were continuing education courses, discussions with colleagues, and journals. Barriers to gaining professional information were "time" and "availability or accessibility."
For most of us, time and access definitely hinder our innate drive to know more and excel in our chosen profession. However, an increasing number of ways now allows you to creatively meet your professional education needs.
Your first step is to join the American Dental Hygienists` Association. Dental hygienists in Kansas have recently had a rude awakening to the necessity of working together - through our professional association - to maintain quality, professional, and preventive oral health care for our patients. Practice acts and your scope of practice can change overnight, as a result of efforts within organized dentistry. Your input at the state and national level is vital to your patients` well-being, as well as your own professional career.
ADHA also is a never-ending resource for continuing education. Call the association at (800) 243-2342, ext. 8912, to receive a Professional Products catalog with a variety of self-study courses. Each four-hour course costs $28 for nonmembers (members receive a cost reduction).
Additionally, the catalog offers information on legislative action, public relations, literature reviews and research reports, as well as information on how to order products for the office and the profession of dental hygiene.
The association can also be contacted through its Web site, www.adha.org.
If you are able to travel to a national or constituent (state) meeting once a year, ADHA provides a stimulating educational and social environment in which to enhance your career needs. In 1998, the ADHA Annual Session will be held in New Orleans, from June 24-July 1. Constituent (local) meetings are offered in some cities or counties as often as once a month. Call the ADHA if you are looking for information on events in your state.
You have probably attended continuing education courses with your office staff hosted by the American Dental Association. If your dentist is a member of the ADA, he/she receives a yearly catalog of local and national meetings, as well as self-study courses offered throughout the United States. For nonmembers, a $20 fee is charged for a subscription to the catalog. Call (312) 440-2869.
The ADA`s annual session is usually hosted every October, and courses available to hygienists are listed in the July issues of the Journal of the American Dental Association.
The ADA Seminar Series is the association`s offering to constituent and component dental societies, including dental hygiene groups. A local or state dental hygiene society, for example, can contact the ADA at (312) 440-2908 to inquire about bringing a speaker on a specific topic to a society`s monthly meeting.
Studying by candlelight at home
A number of self-study, short courses (usually offered for one CEU) are provided by magazines and newsletters as a service to dental hygienists. Check with your state dental board before you read the article, take the examination at the end of the article, and mail the course fee to the sponsoring university. Your dental board may not accept self-study courses or may want to see a copy of the course before approval is given.
If you would like to receive these publications, subscription information is listed below.
- RDH. No charge for subscription; published monthly. Write RDH, P.O. Box 3306, Tulsa, OK 74101. Course fee: $15, two CEUs.
- Dental Hygienists News. No charge for subscription; published four times a year. Write Harfst Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 576, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303-0576. Course fee: $15, two CEUs.
- Case Studies in Periodontal Management (newsletter). No charge for subscription; published several times a year. Call (800) 2-COLGATE. Course fee: $12.50, one CEU.
- Dental Connection (newsletter). No charge for subscription; published several times a year. Call (800) 989-8826. Course fee: $12.50, one CEU.
- Oral Care Report (newsletter). No charge for subscription; published quarterly. Write Dr. Chester Douglass, Department of Oral Health Policy, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, 188 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115. Course fee: $10, two CEU.
- The Compendium of Continuing Education in Oral Hygiene (newsletter). No charge for subscription; published several times a year. Write Dental Learning Systems Co., Inc., P.O. Box 505, 241 Forsgate Drive, Jamesburg, NJ 08831-0505, or call (800) 926-7636, ext. 180. Course fee: $14, two CEU.
The Health Studies Institute (800) 700-3454 will send you a brochure of self-study course offerings. Courses range from four to 20 CEUs. Course fees are less than $10 per CEU. Likewise, Home Study Educators, Inc. [(800) 294-4473] offers a wide variety of self-study courses. Courses range from one to 12 CEUs. Workbooks and computer interactive courses, audiotapes, and videotapes range in prices from $18 to $63. Both providers are recognized by ADA CERP (Continuing Education Recognition Program). ADA CERP-approved programs are usually accepted by most state dental boards for relicensure requirements.
RDH magazine and The Journal of Dental Hygiene both publish calendars of continuing education courses that are offered throughout the United States.
Learning with a cursor
Even Kansans are surfing these days - on the Internet, that is! RDH magazine published a great article (June 1997) by Heidi Emmerling and Barry Matherly on how dental hygienists can "chat" online. The issue also listed 172 Web sites of companies or institutions that offer products or services to dental professionals. For example, SmartPractice (www.smartpractice.com) lists a calendar of current events for your convenience. Different national and state dental meetings, as well as special event days (such as National Smile Week), are readily available.
In addition, the ADA`s continuing education catalog can be ordered from its Web site (www.ada.org), along with a listing of more than 350 continuing education providers who have received ADA CERP approval.
Web sites offering on-line continuing education courses include:
- Dental Site/Resources for Dental Hygienists - (www. dentalsite.com/hygienists) offers information on both national and international continuing education courses.
- DDS-Net - (www.ddsnet.com).
- Inside Dentistry - (www.ddsdx.com) allows you to communicate with other dental professionals throughout the world; access current information on specific dental cases or general topics; take a CE course and interact with the instructor "live!"
- Dental Continuing Education Online (www.dceonline.com) also allows you to take long-distance education courses at home and communicate with your instructor through e-mail.
Also check with a university or college that offers continuing dental education courses. Many of them offer online CE courses.
Still, nothing like a classroom
In my mind, and maybe it`s because I taught dental hygiene for more than 15 years, I still feel that self-study courses are not a substitute for live, on-the-spot instruction. Sitting in a lecture, mingling with your colleagues, stopping the lecturer to ask a question or contribute your personal experiences to the learning process, can be an enthralling experience. A motivated, well-informed instructor can bring out the genius in all of us.
Continuing education credit can be awarded for:
- Degree-completion programs in dental hygiene education.
- Teaching dental hygiene continuing education classes for an academic institution.
- Writing and editing dental hygiene continuing education self-study courses.
Besides your need to serve patients to the best of your ability and, at the same time, meet state relicensure requirements, there are a variety of personal reasons for seeking stimulation and career growth through continuing education.
Although the majority of dental hygienists are satisfied with their profession, the literature indicates that we still want additional variety, responsibility, advancement opportunities and challenges. It is not surprising that dental hygienists often find they want more responsibilities and opportunities for advancement. Advancement does not necessarily mean more pay or recognition. Sometimes, the opportunity to develop new skills and apply this knowledge in a way that is appreciated is all a dental hygienist is looking for.
Often, continuing education is the catalyst that propels us to use more of our mental and physical potential, whether the subject matter pertains to the practice of dental hygiene or some other field of endeavor.
Knowledge and a caring attitude have the power to perform miracles. I know. I just witnessed one at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas.
Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD, is a member of the RDH editorial board. She is based in Olathe, Kan.
- Gravois SL, Fisher W, Bowen DM: Information-seeking practices of dental hygienists. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1995;83:446-452.
- Nelson MJ, Newell KJ: A career development program for graduate dental hygienists. J Dent Hyg 1993;67:398-402.