The Journey of Two Women

Dec. 1, 2004
The Journey of Two Women Last month we began this series by sharing stories about our journey of passion. We had different beginnings and different paths until we met at the crossroads.

by Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS, and Debra Grant, RDH, CA

The Journey of Two Women Last month we began this series by sharing stories about our journey of passion. We had different beginnings and different paths until we met at the crossroads. We felt an immediate connection, which we call a love story. While we may not share that immediate connection with you, we all have a common thread.

We are licensed, caring, and educated professionals. Our connection is that we understand each other's trials, successes, and tribulations. Our relationships with dental hygienists are different from our other relationships in life. This is a love story with our profession - and with other dedicated professionals from various cultures and backgrounds - based on a love and respect that we cultivate daily.

We concluded our last article with our first component board of trustees meeting. Deb and Patti had just been elected president and president-elect. Deb's first executive decision was to tell Patti to store the AV equipment. We were both new, so we asked past leaders for input. When we asked why, the answer was usually, "Because that's the way we've always done it."

Patti's Paradigm

Deb and I discovered immediately that we had several things in common. We questioned everything, and we didn't like being told something couldn't be done, or that something was the way it had always been done. We found the organization to be complacent, set in its ways and resistant to change. This was the model. This was the organization's paradigm.

A paradigm is a set of rules and regulations that does three things:

Establishes boundaries
Provides rules for solving problems within those boundaries
Limits potential solutions.

In dentistry, we have many paradigms which limit our field of vision and potential. Dr. Bill Blatchford wrote an article abaout dental paradigms for the August 2004 issue of Dental Economics, in which he listed some of the especially strong dental paradigms. We're sure you'll recognize them:

Only the business staff needs to know the fees and how money and insurance work
The doctor is the only one who "sells" or presents a case
Finding the cheapest materials and equipment will save money
When presenting, we do 80 percent of the talking
An empty chair is expensive and a full schedule means profit
You must book the dental hygienist with patients every 30 to 45 minutes
A "little" office can't make a difference
No one but the doctor is accountable
Only the doctor can make decisions

We can all relate to at least one of these. Paradigms foster acceptance. Sometimes they put us in a tunnel and we see only one way forward. This is the limiting factor of paradigms, and this is why they must be challenged.

Deb's presidential paradigm dilemma

As the new officers of our association, we found the organization desperately in need of change. Change is never easy, especially in a volunteer organization. We found there were three unproductive interlinked paradigms that had become the foundation of the organization.

• Cliques - Cliques had developed, especially at the leadership level. At every meeting the leadership group gravitated together, made decisions together, and didn't listen to the non-clique voices. The membership groups did the same. Small, tight groups ate, talked, and sat together meeting after meeting. The cliques never introduced new faces into their small circles, never listened to new ideas, and never stepped out of their collective comfort zones. We quickly established the cliques weren't clicking.

• "They" - Whenever members talked about the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA), they said things like, "I wish they would change this," or "I wish they weren't so out-of-touch." The leaders alienated themselves from the grassroots members. The grassroots members created their own cliques and labeled the leaders as "they," disassociating themselves from the ADHA decision-making process, yet still hoping "they" would include everyone.

• Money - Every professional volunteer organization struggles with money. It is always tight. Organizations try fundraisers, sponsors, low or no-cost meeting places, continuing education accredited courses, and examine every area to minimize spending while still providing a professionally enhancing experience.

Some answers

We believed the answer to these problems would be to create community, break down the cliques, include every member's voice, and provide a creative and lively professional experience to leverage knowledge of the entire membership. The problem was we didn't know how to carry this out. So we again collaborated with the new leaders and came up with our first step.

• Leadership - Our first step was to unclick the cliques on the leadership team. We sought participation and opinions from every member. We surrounded ourselves with people of different opinions and strengths. We redid the meeting format. We asked ourselves who "they" were, and learned it was "us." By eliminating the cliques, and understanding that the organization belonged to us, we saw an increase in participation and attendance. We called this format "Table Talk."

• Building community - At our first Board of Trustees meeting, one of our mentors, Judy Dinan, RDH, shared a brilliant idea about "round table" discussions. This evolved into "Table Talk," which we still use today. At our component meetings, we have dinner and two continuing education units. Initially, the dinner hour was just a dinner hour, filled with small talk which wasn't a productive use of our time.

• Table Talk - Our Table Talk protocol was written out and executed at the beginning of the year. A summary of the Table Talk format is:

Establish a member from the leadership team to be the facilitator at each table. This shows attendees that the leadership is touchable and approachable.

Prepare a list of questions to discuss on the topic of the evening. We did not have to answer the questions, they just created discussion.

Introduce yourself with ice-breakers and personal comments. Be creative and humorous.

Eat while you talk about the topic. If there is anything that we learned about dental hygienists, it's that we're great at multi-tasking, especially when it comes to eating and doing something else!

Table Talk bred healthy professional discussion. We enjoyed being challenged. The participants enjoyed earning CE while they ate. As attendance increased, we presented our format to the Illinois DHA Board of Trustees, and even brought the idea to the national level.

This was one small step toward building leadership in dental hygiene and sharing enthusiasm for a profession that we felt was dying. We will continue to share the many hills and valleys of this journey in next month's issue. We welcome all comments and questions via our emails.

We would be honored to share our motivating stories and tools personally to your state association.

Patti DiGangi RDH, BS, is a seasoned speaker, offering interactive courses and motivational keynote addresses that contain new, updated, and practical information that has been "tested in the trenches" through her ongoing clinical practice in the Chicago area. To contact Patti, call (630) 292-1473 or e-mail her at [email protected]

Debra Grant, RDH, CA, continually challenges the profession of dental hygiene through her innovative company Oraspa(tm), Inc., "the original dental spa," along with her motivational and inspirational speaking, educational programs and consulting. To contact Debi, call (630) 640-0473 or e-mail her at [email protected]

Debra and Patti present programs together and separately through Professional Directions Conferences (PDC), an evolving provider of continuing professional learning and motivation education.