Stagnant is not an option

Oct. 1, 2006
This morning I packed my laptop and headed to Starbucks to write and people watch.

This morning I packed my laptop and headed to Starbucks to write and people watch. After about two hours it hit me that no creative words were going to flow into the computer. I decided to spend my day doing yard work instead. If I couldn’t be creative with words, maybe I could do something with bushes.

My house is nearly two years old and some of the original plants are no longer alive. The builders put in a cool drip irrigation system, so I can see where there would be a plant by the black nozzle and the wet spot. This invention is amazing, though probably not new to most of the population. It must have been designed for those of us who are landscape-challenged to guide us through replanting.

My son, Jake, was enlisted to help me with the yard work, and he set out to trim the bushes. About seven minutes into it he asked me why he was cutting everything back to eight inches. After all, he said, it is groundcover, so let it cover the ground. “But it is wild and out of control,” I told him. He reminded me that half my kids have the same issue, yet I let them grow. Where did he get such sarcasm?

At some point during our bonding time I found myself alone and cutting groundcover. It’s not a favorite chore of mine since bugs hide under the overgrowth and I occasionally encounter a tree frog. However, my mind wandered and words finally came.

It was only a year ago that I was doing this same trimming. In life we seem to fight some battles in cycles. Every year, for as long as I am in this house, trimming will consume some of my time. Like the wild ground cover, career boredom and burnout creep into my life from time to time. It is a battle that is never completely won. Small victories help us gain power over the monster, but the conflict never ends.

This year, my burnout is disguised as restlessness. Accepting the fact that I am a clinical hygienist for the time being has not diminished my desire to do something else - perhaps something more in line with my big picture outlook. Like many others in our profession, I have so many irons in the fire that some are getting hot from not being rotated. Deadlines approach rapidly while I focus on planning a continuing education event. Business partners become annoyed with my perceived lack of follow-through when, in fact, I’m focused on networking and securing sponsors. In times such as these, attention deficit actually comes in handy and multi-tasking becomes my best friend.

Many in our profession are branching out and trying new paths. Clinicians are writing or consulting, writers are becoming speakers, and speakers are reaching out to mentor. Dental hygiene attracts people who want to progress. Movement can be upward, sideways or diagonal. Stagnant is not an option in our profession.

It’s not always necessary to leave the operatory in order to progress as a dental hygienist. I am privileged to work several days a month with Kathleen Montgomery, RDH, BA. Kathleen has spent her entire hygiene career, over 35 years, as a clinician, but she continually stretches her boundaries. From 1970 to 1989, Kathleen worked in traditional settings. She eventually needed something to combat burnout, yet she knew dental hygiene was the right career choice for her. Kathleen opened her own practice. Contracting with a dentist for referrals, she not only provided preventive services, she employed assistants, front office managers, and hygienists until her retirement in 2004.

Kathleen started utilizing a phase contrast microscope in 1983 and implemented a program of microscopically monitored periodontal co-therapy. Now that she’s retired, Kathleen shares her wisdom, knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm with me four days a month in a general dentistry office. Stagnant is not in her vocabulary.

Kathleen has a strong sense of community and incorporated that important trait into her practice. Working through a local high school,

she hired students and introduced them to the health care industry. These students worked in the practice for at least a year and learned everything from filing and scheduling to hygiene

assisting and sterilization while earning high school credit. Kathleen admits that owning her own business for 15 years was a challenge at times, but it gave her the opportunity to practice in a way that was comfortable to her style, beliefs, and ideals.

Even the positive aspects of our profession can become overwhelming at times. I admire those who have the desire and strength of character to pursue the political arena. The enthusiasm and commitment of our delegates, trustees, and officers in ADHA is enjoyable to watch. These ambitious individuals fulfill an essential role, yet it is not a role suited to everyone.

I talked to a couple of people who devoted so much time to component activities that other things were left undone. One such person was on three committees and attended weekly meetings. She felt she was doing too many tasks and was not able to give any of the obligations the attention necessary to do an excellent job. She trimmed back to one committee and now feels more satisfied with her efforts.

Another example takes a completely opposite path. There are those who find so much satisfaction from being involved in the political aspect of our profession that they are willing to trim back clinical time to devote more energy to representing our interests at the local and national levels. While some people have the drive and stamina necessary to accomplish every task at hand, most of us must focus on a few chosen tasks.

There are some things in my landscaping that cannot be controlled easily. Unless I want to rip the bushes out and start over, I have to deal with what is there. While the plants are not my favorites, they are tolerable and can be changed. Much like my bushes, unless we are ready to start over with a different career or employer, we need to accept our situation. A $10 pair of pruning shears made an unsightly bush into a tolerable plant. An entertaining CE course does the same for a wallowing career. It doesn’t have to be a big change to make a difference on your outlook.

Work on the things that concern you most first and replace those situations with something more acceptable. Make your career resistant to the unpleasant outside influences.

Career discontent and boredom, like my landscaping, demands ongoing attention. It requires regular mowing and maintenance and some occasional major trimming. The choices are few - either deal with the situation or let it take over.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices in Napa and Sonoma, California, 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].