by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
We have all been asked, “What person living or dead would you most like to meet?” I was pondering this very notion when I reread Mark Hartley’s editorial about the DiVinci’s of dental hygiene (July 2006 issue). My list of dental hygienists to meet would be different, yet equally inspiring. Maybe because I have already met Esther Wilkins, Anne Guignon, Amy Nieves and Mark himself, my list would include less public figures. There are numerous hygienists on my list of people to meet during my lifetime. I would like to introduce my top five.
First on my list is Gloria Juilfs, RDH, from Des Moines. I don’t know where Gloria works or any other tidbit about her life. What I do know is that Gloria is passionate about dental hygiene. She was the first person to disagree with one of my columns, and she was not afraid to state her opinion in a letter to the editor. While Mr. Hartley may have been worried about my reaction to such a strongly worded disagreement, I found it exciting. Not only did Gloria read my column, she cared enough to share her own view on the therapeutic value of removing supragingival plaque. I would enjoy sitting down with her at a future UOR and discussing our differing opinions.
I would take the opportunity to assure Gloria I do indeed teach brushing to patients as part of their home-care instructions. (And my license to practice hygiene is real.) While my patient education sessions may not be exactly the same as those of my fellow RDHs, chances are we all have the same goal for our patients - good health. Disagreements are not a negative in my life. Such moments are important opportunities to stretch our thinking and look beyond our own beliefs or opinions. Spending a day with Gloria Juilfs could be a learning, as well as teaching experience for both of us.
A hygienist I know only as Senja is another person I would like to meet before my time on earth is up. Senja e-mailed me to ask for advice, and in turn taught me more about compassion and ethics than can be written in books or delivered in a course. Senja works in the prison system and is concerned with the oral health of people most of us just want to forget. She likes her job and truly cares about her patient population. Senja’s desire to help these patients despite a terrible ethical dilemma at the facility was inspiring to me. Even more inspiring was her attitude of telling the truth and not trying to protect her job by not reporting misconduct. Just the opposite, she was more than willing to talk to investigators and not cover up for those involved in the crime. As happens all too often, those in authority at the clinic did not support her attitude and convictions.
Senja was instrumental in having a dental professional disciplined for his role in jeopardizing the life of a patient in the prison. Though she downplays her actions as anything important, her unwavering ethical stance is inspiring. In the end, Senja did leave her position at the prison. I felt sad knowing she was leaving a population who needed her services and appreciated her efforts. Yet, true to her serving nature, Senja is now working in other facilities where most health-care providers do not want to go. Spending a day with Senja would be a highlight of my existence - though I doubt one day would be enough.
The next person on my list is not yet an RDH, but her efforts to join our profession gave me a new appreciation for my career. Carolyn Ryan is completing her college education towards a degree in dental hygiene at an age somewhat older than most of her classmates. Perhaps because we share some traits as non-traditional students, I was drawn to Carolyn the first time she e-mailed the “list” at AmyRDH.com.
A married mother of four, Carolyn has found herself in a classroom with fellow students fresh out of high school. She originally wrote to the “list” for advice on how to get over feeling too old for college. What Carolyn got was the realization she is not alone. For various reasons, many of us attended college years after high school. She returned to college after a nine-year absence and is attending the University of New Haven. Carolyn has something most of us did not have during our college years - the support of over 3,200 “listers” worldwide pulling for her success.
Carolyn’s positive attitude is contagious. Her enthusiasm for education and her dreams of becoming an RDH helped me remember why I chose this path at an age older than most of my classmates. Carolyn feels her strength will be in courses that require visual skills and hands-on learning, but she is concerned about the bookwork and studying time required. I, on the other hand, was permanently scarred by the trauma associated with carving tooth No. 8 out of wax for tooth morphology. I think lectures are a piece of cake compared to the days (and nights) attempting to make that stick of wax the exact size and shape of a maxillary central incisor. Perhaps if we had a day together, Carolyn could use her visual skills to help me master that task.
One dentist is among the people I would like to meet. Some may frown upon my inclusion of a DDS in this space, but my conscious will not allow me to omit him. Dr. Paul G. Rubin from Seattle e-mailed me after the first “From the Edge” column in 2005. Dr. Rubin did two things for me: 1) he renewed my faith in the fact there are dentists who admit they can learn from a hygienist and 2) he ignited my interest in researching water fluoridation.
In the offices where I currently work, learning from co-workers is never questioned. The doctors ask for advice and input from every member of the team. Both offices offer a teaching and learning environment. When I have occasion to temp in other offices, it is disheartening to learn that this type of mutual respect is rare. Dr. Rubin is the kind of dentist who would not only accept answers from the hygienist in his practice, he would expect the hygienist to be actively involved in finding the answers. The interest in water fluoridation sparked by Dr. Rubin’s e-mail has taken my own research efforts to a higher level. You will surely read about this “edgy” topic in a future column.
Since my list is limited to five, I will end it with someone I have met but want to spend more time getting to know - Anita Goebel, RDH, from Tacoma, Wash. Anita’s dedication to continuing education and her refusal to be stagnant make her stand out in the crowd. Instead of obtaining a second bachelor’s degree or adding a master’s to the mix, Anita has taken on the challenge of studying languages. She found her knack for languages in high school, when she chose to take French over Latin, the only two languages offered at her school. Anita continued to study French in college and later added Spanish and German.
Anita’s son-in-law encouraged her to take Farsi lessons from his parents and she was a quick learner. Her son-in-law has assured Anita that her Farsi is now better than his father’s English. Though she would like to further her studies in Farsi more quickly, the necessity of working full time and the obstacle of a daily commute to the university has kept that goal out of range for now.
Anita’s multi-lingual abilities make her a desirable member of dental teams going to Spanish-speaking areas of the world. She goes on annual dental missions to underserved countries where her Spanish skills are highly valued. In my opinion, anyone who can find true joy in studying a language as difficult as Farsi is an asset to our profession. This is the type of person I want taking on the challenges that face our careers.
All of us probably have a similar list, yet it is impossible to share them all. My challenge is for us to make our lists known to those who are on it. Never be afraid to share your admiration of another person with him or her. The best mentors can be found as close as your own e-mail inbox.
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices in Napa and Sonoma, Calif., in both general and periodontal offices. She is a partner of Dental IQ, a team committed to arranging quality continuing education opportunities for Northern California. Through her involvement with Dental Hygienists against Heart Disease and other organizations, she hopes to bring a total health concept to the dental practice. You may contact Lory at [email protected].