Something to celebrate

Jan. 1, 2006
Dear Readers, Have you ever thought about how long 25 years really is? Think about it. That's 300 months...

Dear Readers,

Have you ever thought about how long 25 years really is? Think about it. That’s 300 months; 1,303 weeks; 9,125 days; 219,000 hours; 13,140,000 minutes. It’s one-quarter of a century and one-third of the average life span. It’s a pretty long time.

Twenty-five years seems like a long time to continue at any particular endeavor. Reaching the 25-year milestone is worthy of celebration in some situations, like marriage. According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, the divorce rate in America is 50 percent of first marriages, 67 percent of second, and 74 percent of third marriages. Not too many people make it to 25 years, but I did. My hubby and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a cruise to the Bahamas! What a great trip! It’s one I will never forget. Twenty-five years of being married to the same man was not always easy, but somehow we survived the lightning bolts that life threw at us and stuck together until he died just before our 30th anniversary.

I wonder how many hygienists are active in their profession for 25 years. Back when I finished hygiene school in 1978, the average career longevity for a dental hygienist was seven years. According to survey data published by the ADA in 1999, the average hygienist now practices 15 years. My feeling is that more hygienists are continuing to work due to economic pressures today. In the past, couples could survive on one income. That’s not the case today. In most households, it takes two incomes to maintain the same standard of living.

In my seminars, I find out which of my attendees has the greatest longevity in the profession. It is not unusual to find several hygienists in any particular meeting with 25 or more years in the profession. I remember one attendee with 54 continuous years in dental hygiene, and she said she still loves it!

Another thing I find out in my meetings is which attendee has the greatest longevity in the same office. I have identified several hygienists with over 30 years in the same office. What a wonderful tribute it is to any doctor who has staff members with many years of longevity! Some doctors have learned the secret to staff longevity, which is: Respect staff members as fellow professionals and show appreciation in ways other than the paycheck. When you think about it, it all boils down to love. Doctors who love their staff members treat them with respect and appreciation. Staff members who love their doctor want to please him/her by working hard and treating patients well.

I worked with a doctor who knew the secret to staff longevity. He treated us like members of his family. After finishing a hygiene check, he would sometimes say to my patient, “Dianne did a great job on your teeth today!” which would make me glow all day. I heard him say to patients, “I have the best group of ladies in the world,” and “They make my job so easy!” He spoke with sincerity and appreciation, and I thought he walked on water. What a great boss! Dr. D was my first employer after hygiene school, and he gave me a great start by showing confidence in my abilities and appreciation for my hard work. No doubt, I would have never left that practice, but the demands of two small children dictated that I stay home for a while. I continued in the profession by doing some temp work though, because I could not bear to leave hygiene completely.

Hygienists who have many years in the same practice have the opportunity to develop close, connected relationships with patients. Dental hygiene is such a great profession in that it allows the hygienist to touch people’s lives, to be a bright spot in someone’s day, while delivering valuable preventive and periodontal care. Hygienists become more than just caregivers; they become trusted friends. In fact, I have known hygienists to stay in toxic practice environments, simply because they could not bear to leave “their” patients.

It is possible that 25 years in the same practice would feel like a marriage in some respects. To make it work, there has to be a strong commitment on the part of the hygienist to accept the good days with the bad days. And like a good marriage that gets better with time, there comes a point where the good days are far more abundant than the occasional bad day. Eventually (like a marriage), you can’t even imagine ever working anywhere else, nor do you consider that other options exist. It’s just not necessary when you are happy.

I celebrated my 25th anniversary in dental hygiene in 2003. I don’t recall doing anything special that year, but as the years roll by, my love for the profession just grows and grows.

My clinical career shifted gears several years ago when I moved from the operatory to teaching clinical dental hygiene, then on to a full-time speaking/consulting/writing career. I stay “wet-fingered” by taking care of my family and volunteering in an indigent clinic. Seems impossible for me to completely lay down the scalers!

So, with this issue of RDH magazine, we are celebrating 25 years of publication of a magazine devoted entirely to dental hygienists.

You are blessed to receive it free of charge, and I am blessed to be one of the writers. There’s not another magazine like it - never has been, never will be!

Congratulations RDH magazine! Dental hygienists all across America salute you. We hope you will be around for another 25 years so we can celebrate again!

And thank you, Mark Hartley, the best editor in the world, for being such a strong advocate and supporter of dental hygienists everywhere!