Part 3 - Loitering in the South
Mark Hartley, Editor
One can assume that the demand for precise pronunciation always exceeds the supply in the South. It is easy to imagine bureaucrats, headhunters, and other recruiters of personnel searching far and wide for people who can clip those vowels without adding any extra cream gravy. They like for manpower to ask, "Can I have your credit card number, please?" the same way all day long.
I wonder if they import accents from all over the world to work in the South? I wonder if dental offices in the South hire someone to crisply go through the medical history? Because they know if Mr. Johnson - that transplant from Cleveland - has to spend more than 30 seconds listening to Laura Ann`s accent ... well, who knows how long it will take him to pay the bill.
The most impressive accomplishment in the language of the South is the eradication of "ain`t." Mothers labored feverishly for years, washing out countless mouths with soap, to ensure future generations would not even think of saying that non-word. Of course, someone forgot to pummel away at advertising agencies. Commericals and display ads still have mottos such as, "You ain`t seen nothing yet," about their products.
Southern accents are a pet peeve for many people. Since I`ve been told that I have a Texan`s version of a Southern accent, in addition to a Northerner`s bluntness, I`m used to the pause that indicates, "If I keep my mouth shut, then he won`t say anything back to me; the conversation will be over." My feeling about the "funny way we talk" is: A Southern accent is grating only if you let it be. Because the words out of a Southerner`s heart usually radiates warmth, politeness, and hospitality. No matter where you are in the South, you feel like loitering for a while. Take off your coat and shoes. Dangle your feet off the pier. Sip a cool drink and think about how you should pass the time like this more often. We can go fishing or dancing a little later, if you`d like. But, before you sit down, you go check out of that motel; John`s gone to Atlanta, his bedroom`s empty, and that`s where you`ll stay.
So, after spending the night in Northern Maryland, we`re anxious to begin the journey through the South. We take the Beltway around D.C. and cross the symbolic boundary of the Potomac River. Breakfast is in Virginia`s Bull Run neighborhood. Since we`ve stopped, it`s a good opportunity to meet Julie Mitchell in nearby Manassas. The less flattering of the two photographs that we have of Mitchell is shown here - where she obviously has been interrupted at work. The other photo is the one that prompted us to pause here in Northern Virginia. She is posed in front of a huge mirror. This antique, as it must be due to the intricate carving, is about three feet wide and an easy nine feet in height. I would have published it, but the effect of a flash and dark curtains beside the mirror would not have reproduced very well in the magazine. Needless to say, the magnificent piece of furniture looms over Mitchell.
Mitchell obtained her license in 1991 after spending several years as a chairside assistant. She says her career has given her a "great sense of personal and professional satisfaction."
"Over the years, the number and nature of continuing education courses for dental hygienists have increased dramatically," she wrote. "My ongoing participation in a wide variety of continuing education courses has been instrumental in the enthusiasm I have for my profession. I am not aware of any other profession that is as fulfilling as hygiene has been for me."
A drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains is tempting. However, we want to end the day in Portsmouth, so we stick to the tidelands and Interstate 95. On the north side of Richmond, as we take the loop over to Interstate 64, we pause again. It`s summertime, baseball is being played everywhere, and all of this state`s history is making us feel pretty patriotic this afternoon. If we`re lucky, Patricia Brown Bonwell might be singing the national anthem at some ballpark. Bonwell has sung the anthem at games for the Richmond Rage, a women`s basketball team, and the Richmond Braves, a farm club for the Atlanta Braves.
Bonwell works in a general practice three days a week and in a perio practice one day a week. She is a 1994 honors graduate from the Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry.
She wrote the following about her college years: "During the summer between my junior and senior year of dental hygiene school, I was selected by the U.S. Public Health Service to participate in its Junior Co-Step Program. I was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base and worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I administered dental hygiene services to inmates in a minimum security facility on this base in Florida."
On this day, Bonwell is not singing anywhere. She must be pursuing one of her other interests - softball, volleyball, and tap dancing. So we climb back into the car in search of "Lupe" in Portsmouth.
Guadalupe Genera`s story is an inspirational one. An "office trained" dental assistant, she went through five years of night school before becoming a hygienist in 1995. She was 35 years old when she made the decision to take college courses.
"I was still raising a family," she writes. "One year into my general studies my daughter, Lisa, substituted for me in the dental practice where I worked. She liked dentistry so much that she decided to change her major from pharmacology to dental hygiene ... We attended school together. She was accepted a year after I was, and we also worked together. I was her big sister at school and Mom at home. This allowed me to help and mentor her through some of the rough parts in school.
"When I decided to go to school, this was not supposed to become a family profession. But I was glad to share the best part of dental hygiene with one of my favorite people in the world."
Lisa Genera graduated in 1996. What a nice story. Of course, many daughters follow their mothers into the profession. But we`re not aware of too many instances where Mom just handed the daughter next year`s textbooks, saving the trip to the campus bookstore.
Since Georgia is our next destination, a long, leisurely drive awaits. Interstate 95 is found again by driving down some back roads on the north side of the Great Dismal Swamp and passing through Suffolk, Franklin, and Emporia. The Interstate speeds us through North Carolina and well into South Carolina, where we switch off onto Interstate 20.
At the Georgia border, in Augusta, we stop to meet Jane O`Tyson. When we asked RDH readers for photographs of themselves in consideration for the magazine`s cover, O`Tyson was one of a half-dozen or so who submitted photos by e-mail. Unfortunately, all of these digital images inadvertently disappeared one day via the Great Delete Button in the sky. But we still have a printout of her photos. Dressed casually in jeans and a denim vest, she poses in front of a very nice house in one photo. It is apparent, though, that inventors did not design camera lenses with Augusta in mind. The huge trees in the photo are chopped off right around where the belly button would be, if trees had them. Even the telecasts of the golf`s most famous tournament fail to capture the beauty of Augusta`s trees. In the other photo, she proudly stands beside a shiny sports utility vehicle.
O`Tyson is gung-ho about infection control. "OSHA can be fun, not a hassle," she wrote. Since most people would not be so polite when talking about federal regulations, we wanted to meet her. She has practiced for 18 years with Dr. Stanley Anderson and coordinates infection control in the office.
"I recently completed an easier, efficient way to keep up-to-date on specific OSHA regulations," she writes. "I have made it a lot simpler for our office. It does require some work at the beginning, but, afterwards, it`s just maintenance."
A 1980 graduate of Clayton State College, O`Tyson also coordinates the biweekly staff meetings for the office. She also works part-time with Internet Effects, a company that sells Web sites.
"I find this to be very exciting, and I hope to eventually talk with all of the dentists in the area about having their own Web sites for patient awareness," she says. "I thoroughly enjoy many aspects of dentistry and like to employ them into my daily hygiene duties."
Our next two stops are in the Atlanta suburbs of Tucker and Riverdale. Tucker is north of the road to Augusta, lying in the morning shadow of Stone Mountain. Robyn Siegel Sabag is a 1983 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia. She has another interesting story to tell about family dentistry in the literal sense.
Early in her career, she worked in her father`s practice and then moved away from the Atlanta area. Not long after she returned, her younger brother completed his dental school residency and decided to join his father`s practice.
Sabag writes, "People ask all the time about what it`s like to work for my brother and my father. I can`t begin to explain the closeness we feel and how much the patients actually feel like a part of the family. Since my father has semiretired and my brother has taken over the practice, it has been a most enlightening experience watching the practice grow and evolve into such an advanced office.
"We are one of very few offices using digital radiography, intraoral cameras, and computers in every operatory. All of this has kept me excited about my career even after 15 years! I feel I still have so much to offer to my patients, the practice, and, most of all, to my loving bosses, my family."
Riverdale is south of the city, not far from the airport. Anita Carras-quillo worked for the airlines until 1994 when she became a victim of corporate downsizing. She needed to make a quick career decision.
"[The decision] did not take long for me, since I loved teeth, meeting new people, teaching, helping others, and perfecting things with my hands. It was quite obvious that the career for me was definitely in the dental field," she writes, adding, "The job for me was to become Anita Carrasquillo, RDH!"
Carrasquillo has two sons, ages six and one, and she recalls an appointment that she had with a pediatric dentist as a child.
"My pedodontist once told me during my adolescent years that I would most likely end up in the dental field," she says. "I saw this same doctor at the 1997 Hinman Dental Convention. All he said was, "Hi, I told you so," as he smiled and walked away."
Riverdale offers us easy access to Interstate 75, which will guide us into Florida. We skirt around Macon and then take a quick detour to Warner Robins. Our intent is to drop in on Cookie Vaughn, who has completed three dental missionary trips to Africa and will be going back soon.
"The people of Africa are wonderful," she writes of her experiences in a dental clinic there. "They are so very kind and appreciative."
Vaughn shares a place in Warner Robins that many life-long first-grade teachers have. She went to work for Dr. Fred Darty as a dental assistant upon graduating from high school. She continued to work in the practice after becoming a hygienist in 1974. She remains there still with the current owner, Dr. Steve McLarin.
"My job is a major part of my life," she writes. "My patients and I have grown up together."
Interstate 75 plows deep into Florida before there`s an ocean view, but eventually the surf of the West Coast of Florida appears outside the right window of the car. Of course, by that point, travelers are dealing with the congestion of the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area. Our first stop is Palm Harbor, which is on the Gulf of Mexico, not Tampa Bay. Lorie Nutter is a newcomer to the profession who has tried hard to pave her own way in terms of what she wants the job to be.
"I received my degree in 1995 and worked in a general practice for about eight months," Nutter writes. "It didn`t take me long to realize that a traditional dental hygiene job wasn`t for me. I had worked as a dental assistant at a pediatric dentist for three years before I got my license and loved working with children.
"I thought I could create a position in a pediatric office where one usually doesn`t exist. I knew that most pediatric dentists usually hire dental assistants to do prophys on the children and do the scaling themselves. So I stressed how I could free up some of the doctor`s time, use some of my managerial skills to help create a better office environment, and still have my own column of patients. They called me the next day, and I`m happy to say that I find my job exciting and rewarding."
The photo of Paula Jacobs should speak for itself. The Tampa resident obviously is not shy about doing a little physical exertion. The 11-year veteran, though, is quick to point out that there was a valley before a peak.
"About four years ago, I experienced hygiene burnout due to an aching back, neck, and shoulders. My posture resembled that of an 80-year-old woman," she says.
She started lifting weights to strengthen her muscles, changed her eating habits, and adopted other aspects of an exercise program. The weariness is gone, and there`s a spring in her step when she reports for work at Dr. Thomas Rockwell`s practice. In fact, she participated in the 1999 Ironwomen Pro-Am Tri Fitness Championship in Tampa last April.
"While scaling teeth is, at times, challenging, so is scaling walls and cargo nets," she says. "This has carried over to my profession, especially in communication skills. Teaching and motivating patients in the importance of oral health as a part of total physical health is exciting when you are personally involved. Living a fit and healthy lifestyle is also important for the longevity of my hygiene career. I turned 39 in January, and I`m looking forward to the fourth decade."
Sarasota is on the far south side of the urban sprawl around Tampa Bay. Diane Burkard has been working there as a newcomer to the profession for four years. But she doesn`t present herself as a rookie. Burkard obtained her license at age 41 after graduating from St. Petersburg Junior College. Her varied careers included modeling, designing children`s clothing, selling real estate, and working as a medical laboratory technician.
"I like the hygiene field very much and especially like the contact with people from all walks of life," she writes.
We steer back onto Interstate 75, and, at Naples, turn eastward across the Everglades and Miami. In Miami Springs, Judy Campbell-Karpis contemplates the twists and turns she`s experienced since becoming a hygienist in 1975. She estimates that she has worked in more than 250 dental practices in her career. This staggering number, of course, includes a large number of temporary assignments and one-day substitutions, since she has learned to juggle clinical hygiene with her quest in earning advanced degrees in education. She now has a doctorate in community college teaching and teaches a program in an urban high school that helps motivate young people to pursue a career in health care.
"One problem with dental hygiene is that it attracts smart and motivated people," she says. "After practicing for a few years, many tend to realize that they have peaked and they look for something more. Dentists who appreciate their hygienists should offer them incentives to stay in the practice while encouraging them to broaden their horizons."
Campbell-Karpis is definitely a philosophical type. Our next stop in Boca Raton has a different feel to it. Patty Jordan writes, "We tell our patients they can come by land, sea, or air to our beautiful, oceanfront dental office. We can offer a tropical escape to the dental office for a cleaning ... We can open the sliding doors and walk in the sand!"
Jordan practices with her sister, Colleen Burns. "Colleen is a true outdoors person. The only time she is inside is when she is practicing dental hygiene," Jordan notes. "Colleen has a boat and Jet Ski and can bring it right to the office and take a shower there before work. We can ski or scuba dive right off the beach, and our patients can watch. We love to have cookouts and get-togethers with our patients at this beautiful office. We can watch the waves roll in and see a rainbow on the same day."
Jordan, who teaches part-time at Broward Community College, says her goal is to host seminars at the practice, where "dental professionals can enjoy the beautiful surroundings and our pristine South Florida beaches."
As we leave the Miami area, I suddenly feel a little homesick for my own stomping grounds in Oklahoma and Texas. We turn west onto Interstate 10 in Jacksonville, stopping only to meet Nancy Ste-wart in Gadsen, Ala., and Janet Leigh Richards in Yazoo City, Miss. Stewart was nominated by her husband, Steve, as a candidate for an RDH cover.
Steve wrote, "She had an opportunity to pursue a career in modeling, but declined it in order to marry me. I have never been able to figure that one out. She was a top 10 finalist in the 1977 Alabama Junior Miss Pageant. She won several photo contests and was the Miss Spinnaker in Panama City, Fla."
The couple has been married for 20 years, and they have a 17-year-old son, Beau.
Richards attracted our attention because of the photo. Our guess is that this is how most residents in central Mississippi view her - dressed for travel, complete with the carryall bag. She drives from Canton, a Jackson suburb, to Yazoo City to work each day. It`s a 45-minute drive, according to Richards, who has practiced in the state for five years.
When we start our next leg of this journey, we`ll cross Louisiana on Interstate 20 and enter my native state of Texas.
Mitchell: A magnificent mirror
Bonwell: We hope she`ll sing
Genera: "Lupe" (right) had hygiene textbooks ready for Lisa (center)
Sabag: The family spirit in the office
Carrasquillo: Doc knew where she`d end up
Vaughn: A lifetime of patients and trips to Africa
Nutter: Getting paid to treat kids = happiness
Burkard: Sarasota newcomer
Jacobs: Posture of an 80-year-old?
Campbell-Karpis: Miami`s philosopher
Jordan: She and sister Colleen proudly announce, "Surf`s up!"
Stewart: Chose Steve and Beau
Richards: Ready for the commute