by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
Mandatory continuing education evokes a variety of responses that are all over the map. Some folks resent being required to take an average of 12 hours a year. Others see it as their professional duty to keep as well informed as possible. Some new graduates may think they just learned everything in school while others are eager to absorb all they can about their new profession. There are those who think there can't possibly be anything new under the sun and others who sign up for more courses in a month than they need for an entire year.
My master's thesis data proved the magic of continuing education. It showed that dental hygienists who took a lot of CE had higher levels of career satisfaction than those who did not. Length of practice or employment status did not affect satisfaction scores. CE was the key. Hygienists who actively sought out and attended courses were more engaged in their professional careers.
I'm a self-confessed CE geek. Learning new information or hearing a different point of view is energizing, especially in a live program with lots of interaction. It's great when a course covers topics you know well, but it's also wonderful to attend programs that contain new, challenging material. The icing on the cake is attending a course where the speaker knows the subject inside and out and their passion creates an unforgettable positive aura. Real, sustained learning takes place at this level.
Nobody knows it all. Even if one is an expert in a particular field, there are monthly, weekly, and even daily changes based on emerging science. Technology can create a practical application, based on scientific data, at an astonishing rate. The global delivery of new information is a key stroke away. Nearly every time I write a column or article, or put together a presentation, a new piece of information becomes known as soon as the piece has been published or the handout printed. Every speaker and writer has had this experience. We are living in a world that is exploding with knowledge. Many of us add a new slide or tweak an important point literally hours before we walk out on the stage or send in our final draft.
Everyone's time is precious, so it makes sense to develop a strategy that makes continuing education interesting in addition to meeting your needs. First, consider courses based on the subject, content, format or speaker reputation rather than fee, date or location. If the course topic is appealing, you are more likely to be engaged in the delivery and the time will just fly by. Come with an open mind, ready to learn something new. Some courses are more content-rich than others and some will be full of information that you can use on Monday. Whether a program is your favorite or not, there is always something to learn, even if it is the simple fact that you don't want to incorporate the particular idea into your practice. Events like that provide reflection and reinforce your current practice standards.
Personally, I really enjoy going to courses with other dental professionals. There is only so much information that any one individual can absorb. Attending a course with a friend works even better if you travel to and from the program together or happen to work in the same practice. Each of you will remember different highlights. Post-session conversations reinforce what each of you learned as well as help clear up any misconceptions.
A Question for the Speaker
Speaking of misconceptions, communication experts know that effective, accurate communication is challenging. Regardless of the words or visuals, someone in the audience is bound to misunderstand or disagree with the material. If you're needing clarification, chances are someone else is thinking the same thing. Don't be afraid to pose a question or start a dialogue. Speakers have different presentation styles but most welcome questions. Some don't mind an interruption during the presentation, others request questions in a written or verbal format just before or after a break. Most speakers know which topics are going to generate questions and if they will be covering the material in question at a later point. If this doesn't happen, ask your question again but consider phrasing it in another way. Perhaps the speaker did not get the full intent of your question or comment.
Data transmission has turned our world upside down. Most of us like the convenience of cell phones, e-mail and text messaging, but there is a time and place. It is a matter of courtesy to others attending a course to put your phone on vibrate or wait until a break to send a text message. Everyone understands an emergency, but it is nice to step out into the hallway so others can continue to focus on the speaker's message. The same request goes for attendees that spend the entire course catching up on each other's personal lives. It's annoying to strain to hear a speaker because of chatter. I've been in courses where I've been embarrassed for the speaker.
Meeting rooms often have configuration challenges and temperature variations. If you can't see the screen or hear the speaker, try to find a seat up front to solve the problem. Most meeting rooms have hot and cold sections. Put one hundred people into a room. Some will have varying layers of personal insulation, a few are suffering from raging hormones and the remainder have internal cooling or heating systems that are temporarily malfunctioning. Come prepared to make yourself comfortable in a variety of temperatures. If you are cold-natured, please bring a sweater or wear enough clothing to stay warm.
If the words hot and flash describe your relative body temperature, please bring a fan, and feel free to point it in my direction at any time! I always appreciate a cool breeze. Finally, if the selection of CE in your area doesn't meet your needs, solve the problem creatively. Offer to join or chair your local hygiene association's program committee. This gives direct input regarding topics or speaker selection. Consider asking the area dental supply company or a local specialist to support a CE event and propose a subject or a speaker. Many speakers are willing to come for the right audience size. Often it makes more sense for the speaker to travel to an area, rather than everyone traveling to another city for a meeting.
Join online live events such as the virtual conference hosted RDH magazine, the "RDH Event," a CE experience that you attend sitting in your easy chair at home. Form a study club and invite a speaker. Your group can also create a list of topics for discussion. A wide variety of CE topics is available online and in print format. Some are fee-based; others are free. Take turns to research and distribute reading materials that can be discussed by the whole group at a specific time. Prepare an agenda and appoint a moderator to keep things flowing. Group discussions can be handled in person, via an electronic chat line or a conference call. Think creatively. Challenge your professional comfort zone. Continuing education can be fun, informative, and rewarding.
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 www.anneguignon.com.