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Growing Seasons

April 1, 2007
Driving home recently, I had some time to think. As a busy, working mother of two, my “car time” offers me some much valued time for reflection.
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by Cappy C. Snider, RDH

Driving home recently, I had some time to think. As a busy, working mother of two, my “car time” offers me some much valued time for reflection. Noticing the bare trees and colorless landscape during this brief period of “winter” in Texas, I was drawn to the parallels that the seasons in nature have with the seasons of my career in dental hygiene.

Beginning my 20th year as a registered dental hygienist might have left me jaded and entering the fall season of my career. Conversely, I consider this the spring, a time of new beginnings with fresh ideas and information from many sources. I have an encouraging and challenging workplace in which to “bloom.”

With spring, my anticipation for what is to come is running high.

The excitement I felt at the beginning of my career was no less evident, just different. Anticipation of what lay ahead in my professional life and getting my foot in the door of a great practice where I could warm up my shiny, new scalers was the priority. At last, a reliable paycheck after those lean years at school! Paying off that looming student loan and creating more debt with the purchase of a decent car seemed like attainable goals.

Sure, reading the latest dental journals fell somewhere in the mix, but I had just graduated and all the knowledge in my possession was cutting edge, wasn’t it? So, the coasting years ensued. Summer seems to be the best description of this time in my life. Enjoying the scenery and kicking back to relax in my new role suited me just fine.

Summer stretched on through the years. Marriage, home, children, and daily work life blended together. I took the required CE courses. I made strong connections with my patients, and I loved my chosen career. Occasionally, a CE course created a revelation in my way of providing care to patients, but I never implemented anything earth-shattering. Eventually, my summer season came to an end when I acquired a newfound perspective on my role as a hygienist.

I had chosen a CE course to meet my minimum hours for that year. I had to sacrifice a day off for career-related duty. Oh well, it was close to home and the topic seemed pretty interesting, so I sent in my registration. Little did I know when I sat down at the table in the conference room that I would leave that day as a different hygienist ... and a different person. A lightbulb too bright to ignore switched on inside my head, and I had to take action. I returned to work on Monday a different employee. My seasons were changing.

I had to exercise my newfound role as valued caregiver, significant employee, and fount of preventive knowledge. Protocols in my current mode of treatment had to change. I quickly realized that my employer was reluctant to change, so not only was my season changing, my scenery was about to change as well.

Several months later, spring began for me. I changed practices. Wow! The fresh air and breeze of encouragement were enough to excite me about the future. The transition from one season to the next was not easy, but it was well worth the effort. Some days the struggle to bloom was just too much, and I would long for the lazy days of summer when going with the flow was so much easier.

Another important part of my change in seasons was finding a group of supporters who were already thriving in their careers. Computers were new to me then, but the friends I made through Amy Nieves’ online community were vital to my cultivation. Sharing experiences with like-minded hygienists who supported and encouraged me allowed me to grow. It was an online “Miracle-Gro” of people who pruned outdated thought processes and encouraged the growth of newer, more up-to-date methods. This forum continues to be a primary source for my professional growth.

Spring has graciously extended itself to me for the past several years. This figurative blossoming has seen me publish several articles, win a national award in my field, and speak at my alma mater to new graduates. My employer and I have developed a respectful, encouraging relationship that allows me to see myself as a professional. My opinions matter, and I am viewed as a specialist in my field. This encourages me to strive to bring new information and products to my workplace and try new techniques within my scope of practice.

I no longer view continuing-education courses as a poor way to spend a day off, but as an exciting opportunity to grow a bit more. The minimum CE hours required by my state are just a starting point, and since finding more fertile soil in which to grow, I have always exceeded that number, because knowledge is addicting! For me, content is now more important than course location.

How long will my spring season last? That’s up to me ... just as your seasons are up to you. Where are you in the landscape of your career? You may feel like one of the hibernating trees that just needs a little sunshine and water to become a productive, useful thing. You may have already blossomed and now find yourself fading due to lack of nurturing. Or are you the plant that is frozen in the cold bleakness of winter?

Unlike plants, though, we can make changes that affect our environment. It is up to us to find our sources of encouragement, nurturing, and sunshine. Those sources come in many forms - from local dental hygiene societies to study groups to online groups, and even, perhaps, a new workplace. How much you grow depends on the changes you are willing to make in your garden.

What kind of beautiful flower can you become? Why don’t you try to find out? It is worth all the effort. I will enjoy and extend my spring as long as possible.

Cappy C. Snider, RDH, has practiced clinical hygiene for 20 years. She was a recipient of the Sunstar Butler Healthy Gums Healthy Life Award of Distinction in 2005. Cappy currently practices with Dr. Brooke Porter in Azle, Texas. She may be reached at [email protected].