by JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD
What a great time to be a health-care provider! There is recognition across the nation that our health-care system requires improvements and that many health professionals can be better utilized to increase access to care. Dental hygienists are in a position to harness that perspective and make inroads in alliances with other health practitioners.
Have you ever toyed with the idea of breaking out of the dental practice setting and trying something different? Maybe now would be a good time to let those creative juices flow and start envisioning another way of providing oral health care.
There is nothing wrong with our current dental practice environment. It is a system that works for many. However, a few drawbacks may have you thinking about joining forces with other health-care practitioners and working in a different environment. Why do we limit ourselves to thinking oral health care must be provided in a dental office?
Consider the following possibilities:
- A cardiologist wants to create a dental hygiene operatory as part of his practice setting. He envisions all of his cardiac patients who require surgery having a comprehensive dental hygiene assessment, as well as preventive and therapeutic services performed prior to those individuals having cardiovascular surgery. Would that appeal to you? Would you apply for that job?
- A gynecologist wants to hire a dental hygienist to provide oral health education to his pregnant patients so they understand how to improve their oral health during their pregnancy. In addition, new mothers can be educated to care for the oral health of their infants. Want that job?
- A neurologist is looking for a dental hygienist to provide health education to his patients and their caregivers so they can benefit from preventive care and manage their oral health given their special needs. You would be working with an occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech therapist to create adaptive devices and programs. Up for that position?
- The owner of a nursing home has been hearing complaints that the residents are not getting regular oral health care, and some have had no dental care for several years. Would you be willing to create a position in that setting to provide education to the nurses and aides, and arrange for direct patient care to be rendered for the residents?
- A mental health institution director has noticed that the oral health of the clients is extremely poor. Could you envision yourself creating a position that allows you to institute oral health care in that environment?
- A telemedicine company wishes to hire you to create a teledentistry division that would deliver much needed oral health care to those in rural settings with limited access to care. Could you create that division and administer it?
- A wellness center has just opened and provides nutrition programs, rehabilitation for those who require strength building, balance, and coordination, other post-surgery recovery modes, vocational counseling services, social services, and emotional support. Could you envision an oral health component to that center? Would you be willing to create such a position?
The point of these examples is to illustrate that there is a whole world of health-care needs out there to which dental hygienists could aspire and be allied with other health-care providers. So often, I see dental hygienists looking for an additional challenge or excitement in their careers. If you have hit one of those moments in your life where you wish there could be more, there can!
Okay, you are probably thinking that it is nice to dream, but we do have to face reality. There might be a small issue of economics or a state regulation that gets in the way. Hmm. I imagine you have faced other challenges in your life and profession, and found that there are often a myriad of ways to manage them successfully.
This discussion is not about encouraging a mass migration of hygienists to leave dental practices. It is about encouraging you to see potential opportunities. When you hit a point in your career where you are ready for a change, consider other avenues. Ask yourself if you have the skill sets to work in one of the scenarios described above. Talk to other health-care practitioners about incorporating oral health into their health arena. Attend conferences outside of your discipline. Network to discover the perceived needs of other groups. Meet with a small business advisor and learn how to make a business venture successful.
Once you have done some homework, gather a group of successful (and positive) men and women in your living room (or some welcoming place) and talk about your dreams. Ask them how they would go about creating the position you desire. Listen and learn from these individuals. They, too, had a dream and made it a reality. Surround yourself with positive people who help you move this desire closer to a possibility. You can take small, baby steps and slowly move forward with your plans, or take a leap of faith and jump into something new if the opportunity presents itself.
The time is right for making changes and setting new trends in health care. There are many ways we can make a difference in helping to improve the oral health of the public. Don’t limit yourself to one way of practice. Ally yourself with others and consider the possibilities open to you!
JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing-education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and interim dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, adjunct faculty at Burlington County College and Montgomery County College, and president-elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.
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