Award of Distinction
Sunstar Americas, RDH magazine pay tribute to eight very distinctive hygienists
Sunstar Americas, RDH magazine pay tribute to eight very distinctive hygienists
by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH
Longevity with excellence. These are the words that sum up this year’s Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction. Eight hygienists were honored by Sunstar Americas and RDH at the RDH Under One Roof conference in Chicago last July for their dedication and enthusiasm to improve their patients’ lives, their community, and their profession. The group combined has more than 280 years of practicing dental hygiene – but it isn’t just about longevity. Keeping the passion and enthusiasm alive day after day is a challenge, and never giving up on the patients who so often challenge us can help even the most reluctant flosser achieve oral health. They have so much to share with all of us.
Dorothy (Dodie) Allers, RDH
Basking Ridge, New Jersey
Dodie Allers is the first hygienist in the history of this award to be in practice for over 55 years. Allers is not only a testament to the longevity of a dental hygiene career, but also an inspiration to patients and colleagues alike.
"In 1950, I received a two-year certificate from the dental hygiene program at West Liberty State College (now University) in West Virginia," she says. "Following that, I enrolled in three summer sessions at West Virginia University, while my husband got his master’s degree. I was employed by a private dental office for one year in New Jersey before I married and moved to Virginia. There I taught school for one-and-a-half years until I could take my Virginia state board. At that time, the Virginia Bureau of Dental Health hired me – the first state-hired dental hygienist. They provided me with surplus World War II equipment and assigned me to Rockbridge County. For two years, I covered 16 grade schools, giving students prophylaxis and four applications of sodium fluoride treatments. In 1955, I returned to New Jersey to the practice I had started with. In 1970, I was hired by a local dentist in whose practice I still work two-and-a-half days per week. This adds up to a grand total of 58 happy working years as a dental hygienist."
Allers was influenced to become a hygienist by Dr. Herman Braun.
"My childhood dentist, Dr. Herman Braun, chose to serve in World War II as a naval officer in the dental division. He hired me on Saturdays to work as a dental assistant during my senior year in high school and urged me to study dental hygiene."
JoAnn Patyk, RDH, wrote in her nomination of Allers: "Dodie is passionate about the service she provides, and through her patience and encouragement has the most special ability to help individuals terrified of the dentist’s office overcome their fears. We who work with her feel her greatest achievement is how she inspires all – colleagues and patients. Dodie is one of dental hygiene’s quiet angels, a hardworking, loving champion of dental health who has dedicated her life to her profession."
Allers said, "My focus had been my genuine interest in caring for my dental family. What drives me is the challenge to motivate my patients to practice excellent home care; to maintain a healthy mouth, as well as a healthy body. They seem to commit to better care when they hear me talk about infections and their heart."
Dodie has been active in her community over the years, volunteering at wellness events as well as serving in various positions for the ADHA and NJDHA. She has served on the Board of the Visiting Nurses Adult Day Care Center and is a member of the Bonafides, a fund-raising association for local charities.
Christel Autuori, RDH, BS, FAADH, RYT
Christel Autuori graduated dental hygiene from Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists in 1971, and received an associate in science degree from Northeastern University at the same time. She continued her education and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Bridgeport in 1977. A 2008 recipient of the Dr. Esther M. Wilkins Distinguished Alumna award, she is currently a student at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, Conn., pursuing a certificate in Integrative Health Studies and a master’s degree in integrative health and healing. She is also a certified yoga instructor.
"Although I have practiced clinical dental hygiene continuously for four decades, I have also been a research dental hygienist in the Forsyth Experiment in Expanded Duties (Project Rotunda) from 1972 to 1974, and taught dental materials and second-year clinic at the Fones School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport from 1974 to 1978."
Autuori’s father introduced the idea of a dental hygiene career after he had dental care at his workplace, suggesting it could be a career choice for her.
"At that time, most women became teachers, nurses, or secretaries, none of which appealed to me," Autuori said. "I knew that I wanted to work helping people, and I was intrigued with the idea of working in a dental office. At my own recall appointment, I asked my dental hygienist if I could observe her at work to see just what was involved.
"I liked the personal interaction and the relationships that developed with the patients and their families. I liked the idea of the flexibility (she later worked in several practices). When I told my family dentist, the late Dr. John Zazzaro, that I’d like to be a dental hygienist, he offered me a job as a chairside dental assistant to really see what private practice dentistry was all about. The experience was invaluable and made it so much easier when I got to dental hygiene school."
Shortly after graduation from Forsyth, she had the opportunity to participate in the Forsyth Experiment in Expanded Duties (Project Rotunda) as a research dental hygienist. This project was a precursor and model for the development of the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner.
She said. "I have worked with local and state dental hygiene associations, educating the public and the political policy makers about the increasingly larger underserved population and the severe shortage of dentists available to provide that care. We are working to pass a bill in the state legislature to allow the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner to provide care in Connecticut – the state where dental hygiene began. In the Forsyth Experiment, we demonstrated that dental hygienists could provide quality restorative dental care, and now the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner has become a reality.
"After the Forsyth Experiment ended, I was given the opportunity to teach in the Fones School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport. Many of the students were from states more liberal than Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the Fones School wanted to provide the opportunity for them to learn skills and techniques that they might indeed practice in their home state after graduation. While a research hygienist in the Forsyth Experiment and an instructor at Fones School, I continued to work as a clinical dental hygienist in private practice. My first love is direct patient care, and I enjoy working in a general practice with a wide variety of patients. I continued to work in private practice until June 2011 when I had to end my clinical career due to an injury.
"One of my employers was a volunteer with an organization called Cape CARES (www.capecares.org), an organization of volunteers who travel to the mountain villages of southern Honduras to deliver medical and dental care. I have volunteered with Cape CARES for the past 10 years, providing preventive dental hygiene care, as well as visiting the schools to teach basic oral hygiene and administer topical fluoride applications. Each year, before my trip to Honduras, I coordinate a toothbrush drive in my hometown, and the schoolchildren of Ridgefield collect toothbrushes to be delivered to the Honduran children."
She added, "My parents always taught me to be the best I could be in all aspects of life. That is my guiding principle, and one that I have taught my children. My career path has been circuitous and most interesting. I have had opportunities to enjoy various aspects of dental hygiene, many of which appeared unrelated at the time; but in the end, all fit together like pieces of a puzzle."
Rosie Bellert, RDH
Lake Forest Park, Washington
Rosie Bellert graduated in dental hygiene from Shoreline Community College in 1974 and completed a bachelor’s at University of Washington in 1981. This fall, she begins her quest for a master’s of education at the University of Washington in Bothell. Rosie has practiced or taught dental hygiene for 37 years and was recently named the director of Shoreline Community College’s dental hygiene program.
She was nominated for the award by Jane Moreno, RDH.
Bellert volunteers and serves on the board of directors of Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene School in Cochabamba, Bolivia – a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that started the first dental hygiene school in Bolivia.
"Working with Smiles Forever has opened up a new horizon for me and provided a venue for me to teach what I know to a population where the need is great," Bellert said. "Smiles Forever is unique in that it gives homeless young women a chance to build a career. We accomplish this through an educational program that trains needy young indigenous women in the profession of dental hygiene. Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene training focuses on preventive dental care, a service rarely provided in South America. The training offers young women the opportunity to become dental hygiene practitioners, giving them a skill that provides for higher self-esteem and independence."
Rosie is proud to be a part of an agreement negotiated between Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene School and Carmen Pampa University Nursing Department in Coroico, Bolivia, near LaPaz. Smiles Forever will accept two fifth-year nursing students. These students will spend four years of nursing education at Carmen Pampa University and an optional specialty year of dental hygiene education at Smiles Forever. The graduates will then return to their rural communities and help with local health problems.
This August, Bellert will personally escort U.S. dental hygiene students with the Shoreline Community College International Summer Institute, volunteering at Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene School, local shelters, and rural villages in Bolivia, and work one-on-one with the Bolivian dental hygiene students.
"The course explores dental disease and the practice of dental hygiene on a global scale, enhancing the student’s perspective on how to teach essential hand skills in an environment without normal equipment available; we teach home-care skills to people living in poverty, and gain an awareness of dental issues in an impoverished environment," Moreno wrote in her nomination of Bellert.
Bellert’s biggest influence to become a hygienist was from a high school job.
"When I was a junior in high school, I was a nanny for a family of four boys. Their father just happened to be a dentist. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. He was instrumental in helping with the process of applying and completing prerequisites. He let me shadow in his office to see what the RDH position is like in an office. I was 16 years old and had never been to the dentist’s. Coming from a family of nine children, we went to the dentist when we had a toothache. I was fortunate enough to not have had one."
Hard work and perseverance combined well with Bellert’s desire for excellence in her career.
"Dental hygiene has been the best career for me," she said. "It fits my personality, my hand dexterity, my artistic nature, my ability to care for people, and it allowed me to work less when my children were born, take care of my family, and still earn a living.
"As I said before, I come from a family of nine children. My parents were immigrants from Belgium. Without knowing much English, just married, and pregnant with their first child, they ventured to the United States. They made their way across the country, eventually settling down in Port Orchard, Washington. I use their adventure as an inspiration to me whenever I think I can’t do something."
Cynthia Carlson, RDH
Cynthia Carlson has been practicing clinical dental hygiene for 35 years since graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan with a bachelor of science degree. She later graduated from University of Nebraska Lincoln Dental College with a bachelor’s in dental hygiene and a certificate in dental hygiene, plus earned her local anesthesia license from Creighton University of Omaha Dental College. Carlson was influenced to become a dental hygienist by a dental assistant and a neighbor, who both encouraged her to look into hygiene instead of nursing as a career.
Carlson also has a public health authorization, which allows her to work in the public health realm.
"With the public health authorization in Nebraska, I have stepped out into public health arenas to carry the dental hygiene message of prevention. Public health has opened my eyes to the enormous unmet needs in our communities for preventive dental care. I hope to enlighten others of these needs and help them see the opportunities we each can utilize to help eliminate these needs."
Carlson feels community service has been her greatest accomplishment. She has participated in a number of community projects, bringing her dental expertise to the public, supporting preventive dental care, and promoting the profession. She planned and carried out a fluoride varnish program. She served at Special Olympics, on a literacy council, at an abused women’s shelter, and volunteered at an oral cancer screening program, among others.
Her greatest achievement is her "flexible attitude toward change." Working four days in four different offices has given her a new perspective.
"Each situation and office has their way of doing things," Carlson said. "I must stay open-minded and flexible to work in each, yet I must individually evaluate and compute methods and tools so I can learn and choose the best ways to provide the optimal care for my patients. I am developing the finesse to bring each office up to date on various points of OSHA, coding, protocols for RPS, and instruments and patient aids selection. This is an ongoing process!"
Her motivation to achieve is based on simple challenges. "I don’t have a specific thing that has motivated me other than I enjoy seeing what I can do to expand and grow my dental hygiene experiences," she said. "I enjoy pushing boundaries to see what can be achieved personally and for our profession. The rewards received when you serve others and give of yourself is motivating.
"When you are able to connect with patients on a personal level, and share a knowledge that they will have for a lifetime that will help them achieve personal health is rewarding and motivating. My career path focus has been basically clinical practice. I always have enjoyed keeping up with changing technologies, learning something new, and putting it into use. This allows me to provide the highest standard of care for my patients."
Dona Gabzdyl, RDH, BS, MBA
Dona Gabzdyl graduated from William Rainey Harper College in 1998 with an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. She returned to school and earned a bachelor of science in health care leadership from National-Louis University in 2005 and an MBA in health-care management in 2006 from Baker College, graduating with honors each time.
"This year, 2011, marks my 25th year in dentistry," Gabzdyl said. "As a late bloomer, I attended hygiene school two weeks after the birth of my second son. As a lifelong learner, I expanded my educational path while working clinically, achieving an MBA, and raising three children. Eventually, I became president and owner of my own dental practice management company. It is here that I found my passion – consulting, coaching, mentoring, and educating other hygienists and dental professionals to incorporate the most current, evidence-based science and research into their practices. As of June 1, 2011, I moved to Colorado (from Elk Grove Village, Ill.) and accepted a director of clinical hygiene position with a large corporate dental group located in the southwest United States."
Although there was no question about her desire to be a dental hygienist, it was not her first dental career choice.
Gabzdyl said, "I always knew I wanted to be a dental hygienist since I was in middle school, but I chose to work as an assistant and office manager first. I was influenced to pursue my dream when my patient, Trudi Thalmann, RDH, went back to school as an adult and eventually became our hygienist in the practice where we worked. I am grateful to Trudi for being one of the most influential examples of how to balance a hygiene career and family, and I’ve been balancing ever since."
An advocate of the proactive approach to dental care, Gabzdyl treats the whole patient.
"I advocate saliva testing, oral cancer screening, comprehensive periodontal and caries disease therapies, and I assess risk factors while customizing treatment so that patients can strive to achieve the best clinical outcomes," she wrote in her nomination when she was still practicing clinically. "I worked with patients to obtain a balance rather than succumbing to a disease itself." She continues to work with other clinicians to incorporate therapies that are customized on the individual risk factors of each patient.
Gabzdyl has also personally pledged to make a difference in her community by participating in outreach and research programs, including a mobile dental clinic, health fairs, and school programs to reach the underserved population. "I continue to fulfill my pledge and volunteer to serve the underserved so they may receive access to care," she said.
Gabzdyl’s professional motivation comes from networking and mentors. "I attend professional meetings such as RDH Under One Roof, CareerFusion, and ADHA Center for Lifelong Learning regularly to further enhance my educational foundation. My focus in my career path is to be on top of new products and technologies as they are introduced into the market and seek ways that I can incorporate them into clinical practice. Educating other dental professionals to manage disease by providing every adjunctive therapeutic option possible to achieve optimal clinical outcomes is my passion."
Excited about the future, Gabzdyl said, "I am extremely proud to have the best of many dental worlds: in addition to consulting for my own company, I transitioned into working in the corporate dental practice sector with a consulting group that focuses on elevating organizational performance through core principles and evidence-based research strategies. Now I am a director of clinical hygiene, working with over 60 dental practices. I have never been more proud to be where I am in my professional career as I am right now, and I cannot wait to see where new evidence-based research will lead me in my next dental hygiene chapter."
Audrey Jarabek, RDH, RDA, CMT
"I am in love with life!" says Audrey Jarabek, RDH, RDA, CMT. A passion for living and her chosen profession drives her to achieve. Audrey was influenced to study dental hygiene when a recruiter from the University of Michigan came to her high school and gave her the idea. She spent her senior year in a high school job shadowing Barb Putnum, RDH, at Dr. Daniel Proctor’s office and "was hooked!" She received her associate’s degree in applied science in dental hygiene from Delta College in University Center, Michigan, in 1985. She later attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to earn her local anesthesia and nitrous oxide sedation certification in 2008. In 2009, she earned a massage therapist certification from Delta College.
She currently attends Central Michigan University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in community development in health sciences.
"I knew when I started pursuing a dental hygiene degree at the young age of 17 that I would love this profession," Jarabek said. "I was right! I graduated four years later at 21 and have been in love with my professional career choice every day for the past 26 years. Every morning when I get up, while making my bed, I pray to God, literally saying to myself each and every workday, ‘Yeah, I get to go clean teeth today!’ After 28 years of cleaning teeth, I am every bit as passionate, and I still get just as excited as I did on the very first set of teeth that I cleaned!"
Helping her patients have healthier lives comes from "having an inner personal sense of confidence, leadership, and compassion," according to Michelle Neveau, who nominated Jarabek for the award. Michelle writes that Jarabek has a personal mission statement for practicing dental hygiene: "As a responsive and dynamic dental hygienist, it is my aspiration to educate, inspire, and support proper dental health to a diverse community in a family oriented environment. My excellence, respect, and integrity will shine through me to my team through my innovative leadership. It is my goal to display, demonstrate, and teach personal excellence in oral, as well as overall health, while making each patient feel like they are as important to me as my own personal family member."
"I do a ton of community service," Jarabek emphasizes. "It’s what makes me tick. I thrive to put smiles upon faces; it is a gift I believe, and God expects us to use our gifts. For me, it’s a chain reaction: the more people I meet equals more opportunities equals the more people I meet equals more opportunities!"
Jarabek has been an active intermittent employee with DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team) – the federal government’s mass disaster body identification forensic team – for the past nine years, and Michigan’s MDIT (Michigan Dental Identification Team) for 18 years. She integrated with MI-MORT (Michigan Mortuary Operational Response Team) and DART (Disaster Area Recovery Team) and trains to work directly with the Michigan state police, recovering fragmented remains from disaster sites.
She also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, does therapy dog work with her dog "Lucky" that she rescued from Hurricane Katrina, and many other organizations. Jarabek regularly exceeds her state’s continuing education requirements, keeping current through attending lectures, conferences, and trainings, as well as subscribing to and reading dental journals, and reading books about health and wellness.
Jarabek says her dental hygiene career path has fit perfectly into her "family comes first" career motto.
"I was able to work three days a week while raising my two daughters on my own, with no support, for the past 19 years. Dental hygiene allowed me the privilege of sending my daughters to a private parochial school for their entire K-12 years. They both have pursued paths in the health and science fields as well.
"Amy, who is 25, just graduated with her master’s degree in health services administration; her bachelor’s degree is in chemistry. Ashley, 22, after recently graduating with her bachelor’s degree, has just started her doctorate of physical therapy program.
"Now, with my children grown and independent, I am currently back in school full time, year round, finishing my bachelor’s degree so that I can pursue my master’s degree as soon as possible. I love to help people! I love to learn and gain insight! I love to continuously expand my personal horizons and be the very best that I can possibly be! I have instilled these same traits in my daughters."
Her future plans may include more teaching, dental research and development, training in an advanced dental hygiene model, writing books, or becoming a national motivational speaker. She credits God with being in charge of her life. Having taught dental hygiene at Ferris State University, "I have no idea where I am headed," she says. "I just know that He plants the seeds, opens the doors, and I walk through them."
Dawn Kasper, RDH
Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Dawn Kasper began her education with an eye on nursing. But then her family moved and found a new dental office. She asked if she could spend a few days shadowing their dental hygienist and was instantly attracted. She changed her sights to dental hygiene, graduated in 1981 from the University of Illinois and Parkland College, and never looked back.
"With the unwavering support of my parents, who always encouraged me to be the best I could be, I altered my career pathway and the rest is history," she said.
By remaining focused on her career path, Kasper found in dental hygiene the perfect mix.
"I have always had a burning desire for a career with no boundaries, allowing me constant expansion of my horizons," she said. "Combining a passion for writing and speaking, a love of science, a desire to educate, and a yearning to constantly expand my knowledge, I embarked on a path to differentiate my career and achieve a distinguished leadership role in the world of dentistry and dental hygiene. My focus has always been to utilize my passion for writing, to bring both dental and scientific knowledge to my patients and colleagues.
"Currently, in my position as Manager Global Education at Hu-Friedy, I am very fortunate to work with extremely accomplished people, utilizing my passions and talents while acquiring new skills and experiences, and enhancing my professional pathway."
Creating change is one way Kasper makes a difference in her patients’ lives.
She said, "I believe change is difficult for all of us, but a good friend and mentor of mine taught me that whether you are trying to change a bad habit or perpetuate a change in your lifestyle, anything is possible. Possessing great empathy and the ability to put others’ needs before my own made it easy for me to find ways to educate my patients and offer treatment plans individualized to fit their needs.
"I can provide all the best dental hygiene services available to me, but in the end, they have to take the knowledge they learn as a patient in my chair and apply it to their everyday lives. This is my challenge, and I believe strongly that the more education dental hygienists provide to their patients, the more our patients will want to make changes we instill in them."
Celeste F. Terry, RDH, BS
New Orleans, Louisiana
Serving the underserved has been Celeste Terry’s mission since starting her dental hygiene career. Celeste attended Loyola University in New Orleans on a four year scholarship for dental hygiene for minorities following high school.
"I graduated with a certificate in dental hygiene and a bachelor’s of science in dental hygiene in December 1975," Terry said. "I have been practicing for 36 years in private practice and in public health clinics. I have participated in community health fairs, career days, and mission trips, as well as assisted in organizing dental volunteers and patients to receive free care in 2006 and 2007.
"I was most influenced by my mother, Gertie Ford, who encouraged me to consider the dental hygiene program at Loyola. Her best friend, Audrey Dunn, a dental assistant, and the dentist she worked for, Dr. Sheen, offered support, allowing me to come to the office to learn about dentistry. While there, a fellow classmate came in and needed braces to correct her bite. She decided she wanted all her teeth extracted and to have a denture made instead. I thought surely this was the field I wanted to work in to help others to give them information about their choices and teach them how to prevent dental disease and needless tooth loss."
Terry continued to work in dental offices during the summer as a dental assistant.
"I did an internship while at Loyola where I worked in Model Cities Clinics in Desire, Lower Nine, and Central City, which served low income residents," she said. "I worked alongside Patty Williams, a registered dental hygienist, who was a true inspiration. I also did a study on behavior and motivation with patients at the Algiers Fisher Dental Clinic run by the City of New Orleans Health Department while pursuing my degree at Loyola. I wanted to help change the perception that total tooth loss was inevitable. After getting my license, I began working with Dr. James Pittman in private practice, and Health Power Associates as a hygienist, rotating to the three clinics where I did my internship.
"A year later, I was hired by the city of New Orleans Health Department as the hygienist at Algiers Fisher Clinic where the study was done. After implementing a recare program, I was transferred to the Mobile Dental Program for Aged, which served the elderly of Orleans Parish. Faced once again with senior citizens who did not see the importance of seeing a dentist, health education series were started at the nutrition centers to change that mindset. To date, the program is still operational under the direction of Dr. Mabel Blache. As program coordinator, I have had the opportunity to improve oral health programs by providing education, screenings, and comprehensive care for the homeless and persons with HIV/AIDS, low-income and underserved individuals, and Medicaid recipients."
Terry credits Beatrice Odenheimer, RDH, Dr. Pittman, and other administrators for her professional success.
"They supported and welcomed ideas and gave latitude to incorporate, develop, and implement dental care through service delivery, educational programs, and outreach efforts," she said. "Their belief in me pushed me to do my best so they would be proud. The focus of my career path has been to help prevent dental disease through awareness and provision of dental care. The public health dental arena has allowed for program development and implementation effecting change and improving access to care for the neediest in our community for ongoing program operation in excess of 15 years for most programs."
Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in King George, Va.
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