by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
Birthdays for me are more than presents and well wishes. I use my birthday as an opportunity to reflect on the past year and make goals for the next. I realize most people do this during the New Year’s celebration, but my procrastinating style runs deep. March is the start of my new year.
Most of my goals remain unchanged: get out of debt, become more organized, and work on my patience top the list year after year. Yet, as I gain in years (I do not get older) some goals drop in importance while new endeavors move up the list. 2007 is becoming my year to determine what is truly important.
In my personal life the choice is easy - family is most important. My entire adult life has been spent raising children, and I do not regret it for one moment. While not every second has been a joy, the experience has made me who I am today. While most of society blames their parents, I point fingers at the kids.
It’s more of a challenge to pinpoint what is most important in my clinical career. The things that can influence a good or bad clinical experience are numerous, and as unique as our individual circumstances. Some hygienists insist on specific instruments or products. Others require a certain salary or bonus package. Many clinicians I’ve met recently will not budge on ergonomics. You won’t find these individuals working with rear delivery.
Instruments, products and ergonomics are all very essential in my clinical setting. Also, it would be dishonest to say that money is not a prominent factor in clinical practice. But without validation and respect the job quickly becomes tedious. Respect comes from those around you; validation comes from within. Do not look for the dentist to pat you on the back for a job well done. Quit looking to your coworkers for signs of appreciation or awe. Set your own standards and validate each step you take to reach that goal. Be an example. Those around you will soon realize that respect and validation lead to better productivity.
The most immediate goals for the profession of dental hygiene require less individualism and a unified effort. National licensure, access to care, and increased membership in ADHA should be of utmost importance to every dental hygienist. You may plan to practice in your hometown forever, but unless your crystal ball is flawless, the future is never certain. Unlike our parents, who spent their whole lives working for one company, our society is mobile. It is demeaning to force an experienced clinician to retake exams and boards simply because he or she moves to another state. Changes in climate and altitude will not affect hygienists’ ability to deliver care.
The ADHA and ADA are both focused on access to care and have both proposed solutions to the problem of underserved populations. The ADA suggests training people to visit underserved areas and report the needs of that population. The ADHA has the guts to suggest that hygienists be allowed to use our education to provide those services. Your only concern should be which proposal to support. Will you spend your efforts on a quasi solution from dentists which creates a new dental team member? Are you comfortable handing your career over to someone less qualified? If so, then read the ADA’s proposal and ready yourself for another slap to the profession of dental hygiene.
If you want to see dental hygiene move into the next generation with clear direction, the time to educate yourself is now. Visit www.adha.org and become familiar with the navigation bar on the far left. By following the topics in alphabetical order, you will come across “Professional Issues.” Click on that tab for numerous choices. Read them all, but start with Dental Hygiene: Focus on Advancing the Profession.The future will not allow for the status quo; we will either widen our scope or be replaced.
Unfortunately, the ADA seems to have more publicity and political support for their proposal, which offers no real solution to the problem of access to care. It merely suggests another way of identifying those in need. We can see the hungry people, but unless we get food to them the problem still exists.
The perceived support for the ADA comes solely from their ability to reach the public. That ability comes from the fact that dentists view membership in the ADA as a necessity, not an option.
We have many reasons for not joining our professional organization, and each reason is flawed. We tend to blame cost, inconvenience or a “what’s in it for me” attitude for our low membership numbers. Too many hygienists go to work, scale teeth, punch the clock and go home. In my opinion it comes down to perceived importance, and the paycheck becomes the bottom line. My fear is that by the time the masses understand the vital role of our professional organization, dental hygiene will be a career of the past.
It is important to have goals and seek validation outside of our careers. Balance may be a good motto for 2007. It is easy for clinicians to devote almost half of our waking hours to treating disease and educating our patients. If you have another dental hygiene career outside of the operatory, those hours can double. This makes it hard to imagine how some of us find time to devote to the ADHA or local components.
It may be possible to become better clinicians, writers, speakers, and leaders when time is devoted to other tasks. Some of the most energetic and motivating people I know have interests completely different than dentistry. Creative by nature, hygienists can be found painting, scrapbooking, and practicing yoga. It is wise to take up an activity just for the enjoyment, and to refuse to give in to the urge for perfection.
My birthday month brings with it a chance to plan for new goals and reflect on accomplishments of the past year. The debt is shrinking, organization is all in the eye of the beholder, and patience will always be a work in progress. There have been a few “ah-ha” moments, such as respect is received more often when it is given in return, and enjoying activities outside of career can increase productivity. Perhaps most important, walking the dog can help clear the cobwebs from the brain.
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].