A love of learning

Professional development takes time but it is an investment that will reap many rewards.

Sep 12th, 2013

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

The term "lifelong learning" came into the vernacular over the last decade, as if it were a new concept. Women who have embraced continuous learning with gusto have always been part of my life. For the sake of history, my maternal grandmother started college in her fifties and graduated with an interdepartmental degree in European cultural history the same day I got my eighth-grade diploma from St. Francis Xavier grade school. My mom went back to graduate school in the 1970s while employed full-time. With three kids still at home, she earned her master's in library science, carving out her role as an information specialist in an engineering firm.

My 93-year-old grandmother got a standing ovation in 1988 as she walked across the stage to accept her master's degree in art history one week before I recieved my MPH. She never had serious career aspirations, but didn't want to be considered a "doddering old fool" (her words). She spent forty years of her adult life taking classes at the university, fueled by her love of learning.

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Other articles by Anne Guignon

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A recent post on the ADHA LinkedIn website prompted an interesting conversation. A group member wanted to know what doors opened when a hygienist pursued a bachelor's degree. Comments flew back and forth, but most centered on whether a more advanced degree would make one a better clinical dental hygienist. Personally, I don't believe that more degrees will make one more skilled at removing calculus, disrupting biofilm, recognizing abnormal lesions, communicating treatment needs, or recording findings. Additional information typically provides a broader or deeper knowledge base and more education can create skill sets that allow us to analyze information on new levels.

Does an extra degree automatically confer these abilities? Not necessarily, but in order to qualify for these credentials, one must take specific courses and pass certain tests to be awarded additional degrees. Newfound skills in education, communication, statistics, business, economics, health systems, and child and adult learning can be translated into our clinical practice or whatever health role we choose to pursue.

Everyone's life is at a different stage in time. Some may be in a position to pursue another degree, while others may be bouncing a kid on their knee while taking an online CE course or reading an article in RDH. It has never been easier to gain information. While additional degrees have value, gaining more letters after one's name is not the only way we can grow professionally. Lynn Stedman, RDH, MEd, made a very interesting comment on the forum: "I have met many hygienists who only do the minimum of CE or personal development. Do they have 20 years of experience or one year times 20?" Lynn's second sentence poses a provocative question.

The tagline for Lowe's Home Centers is "Never stop improving." The company website has information on sales, new items, specific projects or departments, and a special section for those wanting inspiration or creative ideas. There is something for everyone with information ranging from lighting to wallpaper to gardening. It is a veritable product expo and how-to resource that makes it easy to learn about a wide range of subjects.

Why not think about your professional improvement needs like Lowe's approaches home improvement? Pick a topic that interests you. If you're bored with updates on periodontics, but fascinated by the role of biofilms in disease or how xylitol affects the oral cavity, start an online search to see what is available. Depending on how creative you are, you'll find informal chats, opinion pieces, white papers, serious research studies, anecdotal remarks, and courses on most subjects.

It's very easy to publish slick-looking, seemingly credible information on the Internet. For most of us, a click of a button brings us into contact with people and ideas from all over the world. If one is pressed for time, it is easy to latch on to the first piece of information, assuming that it is accurate. Despite the ease, take time to critique what you are reading. Are the claims based on scientific methods? Are the sample sizes large enough, the study long enough? Are the results clearly spelled out? Is there any discussion of alternative products or treatments? Do the authors provide financial disclosures? The same questions should be applied to information in a live continuing education course.

Professional development takes time but it is an investment that will reap many rewards. It can come in the form of a new business opportunity, financial gain, recognition within your peer group, respect from coworkers, increased career satisfaction, increased intellectual curiosity, improved communication skills, enhanced clinical skills, more interest in your work, or greater self-respect.

Coming back to Lynn's thoughts, what do you expect from your health-care providers? Are you willing to be treated by a physician that practices with a one-year times 20 mentality or would you rather have someone with 20 years of experience? It's a silly question with an obvious answer, but look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. Are you content to collect a paycheck for doing the same thing year after year? The mere fact that you're reading this magazine means you are open to professional development, but don't stop here. Enlarge your comfort zone by learning something new or figuring out a different way to learn. RDH

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.

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