Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH
Many people dream about becoming a business owner, and hygienists are no exception. But many never explore those dreams and make them reality. For a visual image, think about the clinical practice of dental hygiene as a box with a single, obvious door. Many hygienists are perfectly content to work within the boundaries of the box and are not the least bit interested about exploring possibilities. Some walk out of dentistry`s door and never return. Some linger on the threshold, never content to be out or in. Still others have discovered obscure doors of opportunity that are overlooked by most of us. Some knocked holes in the walls to create special opportunities of their own. Let`s venture outside of the typical box for dental hygiene and meet three hygienists - business owners who are successful at meeting planning.
Joyce Turcotte, RDH, M.Ed.
Professional Learning Services
Turcotte began Professional Learning Services in 1987. Inspired out of frustration and a desire for greater security, she perceived a need for quality continuing education seminars when her state passed a mandatory CE requirement. A former sales rep of dental instruments, she is an active member of the Connecticut Dental Hygiene Association and an educator at Tunxis Community College. Turcotte was in a prime position to meet the needs of the hygienists in her state. She had the contacts, knew the experts, and oozed the confidence and enthusiasm necessary to culminate all her knowledge into a business opportunity. Success, however, would come from hard work and hard knocks.
"I`ve always been a very self-directed person," says Turcotte. "I knew I was a hard worker, not shy. But it was a real revelation to me to discover that if I was working for someone else - no matter what the job or how well I could do it - I had no job security. I could invest my time and energy into a company or institution, but if I didn`t play the political game correctly, I could be out of a job. So when I was encouraged by a mentor and friend to go into this business, I knew I could do it. I knew I would never be disloyal to myself!"
She threw herself into researching her business idea and went back to clinical hygiene part time in order to add to her teaching income. She received some much-needed expertise from an advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration. Three weeks after giving birth to her second child, Turcotte stood at a podium to introduce the first speaker, and her seminar business was born as well.
A business owner weathers the ups and downs. "When the economy went down in the early 1990s, our enrollment dropped as well," Turcotte says. "I was afraid that it was the end of my business! But I noticed that it wasn`t just me - everyone`s business was down. I realized that I had too many eggs in one basket, and I needed to expand my business in some new directions. Now I offer cruise and continuing education packages, private office instruction, CPR dental hygiene refresher courses, and I can be a speaker for other groups. It is so easy to be myopic and not aware of what is going on."
Turcotte is quick to point out that her success is due to hard work, tenacity, and a strong survival instinct, as well as looking to others for advice and guidance. She has an advisory board consisting of professionals with connections in teaching and business who act as a sounding board. She continues to teach part time, which keeps her in the mainstream of the dental hygiene profession. Her seminar docket also benefits from the contact with new speakers emerging from the academic environment.
"Because I`m an educator, I can spot a good speaker very quickly," she says.
What has she learned from her business? "That I can always count on me. I can`t count on the economy or anything else. I have to be creative and come up with ways to survive even in the bad times. Keeping one step ahead is important." Turcotte has used this thought as her business motto as well: "One Step Ahead of Tomorrow`s Standards."
Caroline J. Carson, RDH
Concord Dental Seminars
Concord, New Hampshire
Carson practiced clinical hygiene for 15 years before taking the plunge into business of meeting planning. Although happy with hygiene, she realized that the "scope of my service to the patient was determined by the philosophies, commitment to education, and the standards of patient care of the dentist in whose office I worked. Since this varies from office to office, I felt frustrated at times, and this limited my ability to provide optimal dental care to my patients." The desire and ability to deliver quality, she believes, can only happen when professionals are actively involved in continuing education. Carson felt it was a natural transition into providing CE courses, because she feels she now can educate dental professionals to bring the best dental care to patients everywhere.
"There are many remote, small towns in this country that do not have access to high-quality, research-oriented, published, noncommercially sponsored professional speakers. I feel good about bringing this service in continuing education to them so they can better provide care for their patients."
This dream of bringing new skills and information to dental professionals meant that Carson had to develop new skills on how to run a seminar business. Dental hygiene school certainly doesn`t prepare you for how to run a business.
"Since there were no manuals available to provide guidance, I found my way by speaking with dentists, by observation, and by trial and error," says Carson. "Setting up seminars often meant taking chances in the selection of speakers, geographic locations, and hotel accommodations. It was a lot of hard work. At times, it was very difficult and somewhat discouraging. During that time, I continued to practice hygiene four days a week and also ran a temporary placement service."
Carson says that she gave up a lot to create her business. In the beginning, it was hard work and no pay. Even now when asked to comment about her success, Carson says that success is relative. "It`s a mixture of a lot of things. I feel that dedication and determination are key factors. I give the credit to God, hard work, a dedicated staff that shares my goals, determination, a strong backbone and a whole lot of Maine tenacity!"
That tenacity kept Carson pursuing her dream, even when the long hours were not easy. "When you work in the dental office, you are paid by the hour or day. When you run your own business, oftentimes you are not paid at all. You do not work by the hour, but you work until the job is done - sometimes well into the night."
Carson says a person must have an intense desire to run a business, and she adds that, more often than not, a business can run you. But the rewards of business ownership, although not always financial, are worthwhile. Carson enjoys working with world-renown experts in the dental field. Along the way, she has had an opportunity to tour the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, experience the gracious hospitality of the Deep South, and land a king salmon in Kodiak, Alaska!
The future of CE looks bright to Carson. "Continuing education is a necessity for high-quality care, and it ideally should be accessible to all," she says. "The dental practice needs to put the well-being of the patient at the forefront. In order to do this, we all need to be more informed and educated. It is my hope that all state dental boards will continue to require mandatory continuing education in the dental field. We need to get back to the basics."
Kristy Menage Bernie, RDH, BS
San Ramon, California
Rather than a company that focuses solely on meeting planning, the bulk of Menage Bernie`s business is from corporate consulting, training, and marketing related services. Recognizing a need for consistent meeting planning in organized dental hygiene, she set out to fill this niche too. Rather than seeing her company name on brochures, her business works in the background, seamlessly pulling together continuing education events that are first-rate for dental hygiene organizations.
"We can manage everything - speakers, corporate funding, brochures and graphics, mailings, and registration. We can plan everything from A to Z or just part of the event," Menage Bernie says. If meeting planning isn`t required, her company can secure corporate sponsorship for specific continuing education events.
"I was a sales representative for four years, and I saw overwhelming corporate support for continuing dental education. There was also an awareness of a gap between new technology and getting it into the hands of practicing hygienists. I enjoy being a resource and being able to give back to the profession."
Menage Bernie left clinical dental hygiene when she realized she was "not cut out to be an employee." Wanting to have a greater impact led her into leadership and volunteer positions in organized dental hygiene. "I received a well-rounded business education by being involved in ADHA and serving in administrative roles," she says.
Her experiences with organized hygiene on the state level specifically taught her the ropes of meeting planning. She feels many hygienists don`t participate in ADHA because they don`t see how the organization can benefit their professional growth. But Menage Bernie is living proof that one can expand her career by serving the professional organization. Besides business experience, these positions also gave her more contacts with people and name recognition, which would help her future business.
For Menage Bernie, success has many facets. "I think the business world would say my business was successful the first year because it showed a profit," she says, "but I feel it was a success from day one. I love what I?m doing! In the last two years, everything has really jelled; I think we?re more efficient. Looking back over the past six years, I can see how skills have been perfected to where they are now.O
In the future, Menage Bernie wants to continue improving and thinking Ooutside the box.O OI want to be a resource to organized dental hygiene. Proudly, Educational Designs has established a Owin-win? business that maximizes speaker compensation; participant satisfaction; corporate involvement; an increase in non-dues revenue; and, most importantly, allows the hard-working volunteers of organized dental hygiene to focus on membership recruitment and retention, as opposed to meeting planning duties. In the future, EDI will continue to strive to be instrumental in maximizing non-dues revenue at component, constituent, and even the national level for the express purpose of realizing the vision of organized dental hygiene.O
Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a consulting editor for RDH. She is based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.