Fearlessly Moving Forward

Jan. 1, 2013
Hygienist completes transition from military service to pursuit of a doctorate.

by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

Consider reading: Research And Job Searching

Consider reading: The last 12 weeks

Consider reading: Career Options: Creating Your Circumstances

There’s a lot of negativity in dental hygiene these days. Stories abound of those who have lost their jobs, can’t find a job, or are asked to take pay cuts or sign out when things are slow. But sometimes you meet a hygienist who seems so fearless, so accomplished, and so full of enthusiasm for the future, that you can only shake your head and wonder why we all aren’t more like that.

I met SherylAnne Warren of Medford, Oregon, at the RDH Under One Roof conference, over a stand-up lunch on the steps of the exhibit hall stage (the tables were full). We started with the usual questions: Where are you from, and what’s your job like? I was intrigued by SherylAnne because of her plentiful tattoos, her can-do attitude toward every goal, and her complete faith that life is wonderful.

I asked to tell her story, and here it is.

SherylAnne’s adult life began in the U.S. Army, where her job was as a refueler (77F) in Hanau, Germany. While in Germany, she married her husband of 13 years.

After completing military service, she had the first of three children, a son, in Oklahoma. She was unsure which career path to pursue, but knew she needed to go to college. Her best friend from California, a dental assistant, convinced her to become a dental assistant as well. SherylAnne used the G.I. Bill, scholarships, and student loans to fund her schooling. After she graduated with honors, her husband got out of the Army and the family moved to Wyoming so he could finish his education as a diesel mechanic.

She became an assistant for a periodontist. “You’re not an assistant,” her boss said one day. “You’re a hygienist. You should go back to school.”

“I had no clue what a hygienist was, but I asked to shadow one, and I absolutely loved it.” SherylAnne applied for hygiene school at Laramie County Community College, and was accepted in 2004. During her time there, she served as student ADHA president and Phi Theta Kappa officer for the honor society. While in school, she became pregnant with her second child, and the dean gave her two options: abort the baby in order to continue the program, or drop out and sign up for the next year, though there was no guarantee she’d get in.

“I said no to both choices, and the dean told me I probably wouldn’t be able to graduate, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing my dream.”

(That dean was fired shortly thereafter, though not because of the advice she gave SherylAnne.)

While she was in school, she and her husband separated. With her children in daycare, she worked a 30-hour weekend job at a waste management facility, directing users to dumpsites.

“I had no problems with school,” she remembers. “When you’re in the moment, being a mom, student, and employee isn’t difficult because you do what you have to do to support your family. I was very active, and I just did what worked for my life. Being pregnant, I always said, doesn’t mean you can’t do something.”

When it came time to develop a table clinic, SherylAnne was near her due date. “I did the majority of the work because I was worried that the baby would come before we could present, and I didn’t want to be a burden on my partner. Funny thing, I had my daughter on the weekend we were supposed to present.

“My instructor called me in the hospital and said not to come to the clinic, that I needed to take that time with my child. I’m a very determined person, and even though I had just given birth, I was ready to present. I was told, jokingly, that if I came, they wouldn’t graduate me. I was very fortunate not to miss many classes, because it was spring break time.

We are providers of oral health care and education to the young and old. We are the glue and intermediary between the dental and medical worlds. — SherylAnne Warren

“At graduation, I was presented with a Public Health Award for designing an intern program with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The program focused on working with WIC employees and participants on general screenings and education.”

SherylAnne had a full-time job lined up as soon as she was licensed in 2005, in Alamosa, Colorado. “It was wonderful,” she reported. “I stayed seven months; then we moved to Oregon so I could be closer to my grandmother, who was ill. I worked for a nonprofit for six months, then for a denturist, where I had both hygiene and front desk duties.” She also completed a BS/BA in health care management online from Colorado Technical University in 2005.

“For the past five years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with an amazing female cosmetic dentist, Dr. Zahra Tahvili, from Ashland Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, where I work four days a week.”

At this point, SherylAnne is still single, with an active family life. Severine is 10, Mackenzie is seven, and Kelton is five. “I’m involved in church activities, and I’m a soccer mom. I’m family-focused. I love going to the beach, skinboarding, cooking, reading, canning, hiking, riding motorcycles, and, most of all, spending time with friends and family. We have an 8-year-old Great Dane named Lilly, a crazy cat named Rafiki, a gerbil named Pee-nee, and a goldfish named Rockie.

“As my children grow up, as long as they pursue their passion, I will always encourage whichever path they choose.”

In her professional life, SherylAnne is just as active. In 2012 she completed an online master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in dental, maintaining a 3.93 grade point average at A.T. Still University. “My passions are dentistry and people, and I want to lend my services to those in need. I felt I should understand what public health was all about, and what better way than by studying it? This degree will aid in my journey to help people in need.”

Complementing that definitive need is a pure desire to move even further ahead. She’s presently researching an online doctoral program in health care administration/management. “My goal in obtaining a PhD is to open more doors as far as working with the public and providing access to care. This degree will provide many opportunities to expand hygiene duties across the field.”

SherylAnne expects to complete that doctorate in the next few years. “Ten years from now, I would like to see myself expanding services to the public through incorporating many different dental public health programs.”

Dental hygiene, she says, is not just about picking teeth anymore. “We are providers of oral health care and education to the young and old. We are the glue and intermediary between the dental and medical worlds. Our profession is finally intertwining with the medical community due to the growing understanding that our bodies are one single entity.

“Research has found, and is still discovering, that periodontal disease has links with high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, and cardiovascular disease. We now acknowledge that dental caries is a serious condition for all generations. It has taken some time, but the medical community is now willing to address oral-systemic links. Though there has been a slow start in addressing many of these issues, the medical and dental communities are starting to work together. This is where the hygienist can advocate as educator for both patients and physicians about oral-systemic links, indications, and contraindications.”

Can you feel the passion in her words? There’s a lot of talk these days about finding one’s passion and working to advance one’s profession. SherylAnne is a woman who started out as an Army refueler and has worked her way through marriage, motherhood, divorce, several moves and job changes, and four college degrees — sometimes, literally, with a baby on her hip. She has done it all with an unshakable belief in herself and her goals, and a conviction that everything is possible. She’s a solid asset to the dental hygiene profession, and we should hear much more from SherylAnne Warren in the future. RDH

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, has written on dental topics for 26 years. She speaks on pediatric issues, and works clinically in a pediatric practice. She is also an indexer and a novelist.

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