Dec. 1, 2008
News reports frequently discuss different aspects of this country's employment outlook.

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

News reports frequently discuss different aspects of this country's employment outlook. Demands for jobs in the service sector are on the upswing, with economists predicting an increase in health–care positions. Jobs in health care are growing due to a number of independent but overlapping social changes and scientific breakthroughs. Increased consumer expectations, longer life spans, and population growth are creating a demand for better, more affordable health services readily available to all citizens.

The good news is that we chose careers in health care, which means jobs should be available for decades to come unless some wunderkind or team of brilliant scientists invents a pill or vaccine that prevents oral disease. Since this is unlikely in the near future, our profession or some variety of dental health–care provider, charged with disrupting plaque biofilm or providing preventive services, is likely to exist for some time. While the future of our profession is expected to change over the next decade, most of us will still be in the position to care for and provide treatment to those who seek our services. We care for people, we serve people, and we put smiles on their faces.

Hurricane Ike, the largest and most devastating storm to hit the Texas Gulf Coast in nearly 100 years wrought incredible devastation from the border of Mexico well into the Louisiana coastline. Few were spared in its wake. The high winds, torrential rains, and subsequent flooding robbed us of our smiles. As the remnants of Ike lumbered inward, colleagues from Missouri through Chicago and on into Ohio reported damaging winds and severe flooding, hundreds of miles from the original point of landfall.

Just like three years ago when Hurricane Rita threatened to hit the Gulf Coast, I was thousands of miles away from harm's way, but my eyes and ears were glued to the news channels, wondering what would happen to my husband, coworkers, patients, and friends braving the storm. With the exception of residents living in certain coastal areas, the mayor urged people to get prepared and hunker down. It is physically impossible to evacuate the fourth largest city in the nation in two days. The only choice was to work together and weather out the storm.

Communication was spotty for many. Cell phone channels were overloaded, many landlines were inoperable, water pressure plummeted, sanitation stations were down, trees had toppled and limbs snapped, signs were warped or blown apart, and huge piles of debris lined neighborhoods all over the city. Power outages affected nearly four million people. One month later, there were still households without electricity.

Four days after the storm hit, I returned to Houston. It was eerie to see such light traffic all over the city, and even stranger to see major streets without power on one side and full of life on the other. The buzz of chain saws during the day gave way to the lone hum of generators permeating the sticky night air. People existed on bottled water, ate canned food, and slept without air–conditioning for days at a time. They spent their time cleaning debris out of their yards and throwing away spoiled food, left too long without sufficient refrigeration.

An event like this can bring a community together or tear it apart at the seams. The memories of hurricane season three years ago had not faded. We learned a lot from those unprecedented storms that robbed so many of their homes and livelihood. As a community, the greater Houston area opened its arms to thousands of our neighbors to the east, and many have made our community their permanent home.

Despite the challenges, smiles were evident and folks everywhere were sharing their tales of the storm. People banded together to clean out storm sewers and bundle up debris. They were caring for their community and serving each other in any way they could. Despite the inconveniences and obvious economic challenges, people behaved with kindness and respect. No one went crazy.

I believe our caring and sharing was not forgotten by this nation. Before I could get back to Houston, the North Carolina highways were filled with caravans of trucks from the local power and light companies, headed to the ravaged Gulf Coast area.

As I drove through the streets of Houston, only half a week after the storm blew through, I saw hundreds of vehicles from utility companies, tree services, and communication companies from all over the country. License plates from Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio reflected the nation's concern for our welfare. These workers were here to share their talents and serve the citizens of our community, helping to restore our lives back to normal — and they did so with a smile on their faces.

It is so important to say thank you. In my own meager way, I wanted to acknowledge the services of those who were helping to restore my community. One afternoon I grabbed a couple dozen toothbrushes and drove through the neighborhood handing them out to the workers who were busy clearing fallen trees and restoring downed power lines. Some recipients must have thought this was a strange thank you gift, but I know that as caregivers you'll understand the gesture. One day, if you hear from a patient who is a service worker about a lady handing out toothbrushes after the storm, you'll know it's a true story.

On another level, the dental hygiene community cared for us as well. Shirley Cross and Cher Thomas are both members of the e–mail list. Neither had ever met in person but Shirley knew Cher Thomas and her family, who lived on Galveston Island, which had been evacuated before the storm hit. Even though Ike hit Shirley's neighborhood hard, she and her husband Rick opened their home to Cher's entire family, including three four–legged members, in the week following the storm, providing support as the Thomas family transitioned back to their home on the island.

Numerous North Carolina hygienists treated me like royalty while I was stranded in their beautiful state. We joked about my applying for temporary residency before I returned to Houston. Seriously, Sandy Boucher–Bessent shared her home, and Debbye Krueger invited me to spend the day observing her duties as a public health hygienist as she applied sealants at an area elementary school. Their gestures of kindness created a sense of well–being despite being so far from home. Dozens in the dental and dental hygiene community extended their concerns via e–mail and phone calls. Every one of us in Ike's path appreciated their prayers and support.

As dental hygiene professionals, our focus is on caring for those who place trust in us. We strive to serve with caring hearts, but we do not have the exclusive rights to sharing, caring, and serving. Folks all over this nation once again proved that the qualities that are the bedrock of our professional comfort zone are the essence of caring people.

Holiday wishes to each of you, and may the coming year bring you peace and personal happiness as you care for and serve those in your life.

About the Author

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is the senior consulting editor for RDH magazine. She is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971. You can reach her at [email protected] or (832) 971–4540, and her Web site is