Community joy

I am on a high right now, literally and figuratively. Yes, I'm sitting on an airplane 36,000 feet above terra firma, but more than that I am on an emotional high.

Nov 1st, 2002

I am on a high right now, literally and figuratively. Yes, I'm sitting on an airplane 36,000 feet above terra firma, but more than that I am on an emotional high. I have a feeling of euphoria and connection from my weekend experience. My entire family just spent 72 hours together. We convened in northern Virginia to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary. Every one of my family members has a busy life but we each managed to rearrange our schedules and commit to this weekend together. Seventeen of us traveled from all over the country. The other twenty-two live in the area. Three generations of sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews gathered for this event.

My aunt and uncle chose Joy as their theme for the Friday night Mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Community. The joy of relationships was everywhere. Some of us had not seen each other for years. Others get together on a regular basis. Since my mom and all of my aunts and uncles are in their 70s and 80s I knew an event like this would never happen again, at least not with all of these people. Everyone was smiling and laughing, sharing stories with each other. Cousins got to know each other better and little kids raced around like madmen in the garden after Mass. My mom and my aunts and uncles were ecstatic. The energy was all-inclusive, palpable. We enjoyed our special time together.

The weekend's activities allowed me to reflect on the concept of community. I was spending time with people that I love, people that I like and little people that know me as Aunt Anne from Texas. Some of the hours were spent at structured events involving everyone. Smaller groups also got together for other activities, and, at times, the conversations were just one-on-one. I experienced a wonderful sense of contentment with my family community during these two days. That's not the only time I had a profound feeling of unity this year.

Dental hygiene has played a prominent role in my life for the last three decades. When I graduated from school I thought that dental hygiene practice would be boring. My sights were set on moving to Houston to work on a master's degree in public health. Much to my surprise I fell in love with clinical practice. The patient relationships were intoxicating.

Turn on the light

To be honest, I was not a serious member of my professional community for the first 10 years of my career. I did not understand the critical importance of being a member. When I finally joined the American Dental Hygienists' Association, a light bulb went on. It was a turning point for me personally and professionally. The sense of community support and connectivity has carried me through some very difficult times in my life. These are very tangible benefits to me.

Most hygienists are "people-persons" at heart. We welcome the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. Things like this are important to us.

This summer my dental hygiene community occupied an even larger part of my life than ever. It kept me high all summer. It started at the ADHA Annual Session in Beverly Hills and continued into August at the second RDH Under One Roof Conference in Chicago. Even though the genesis and purpose of these two events are very different, they are gatherings of my dental hygiene family. Both events nurtured me, gave me energy, and brought me joy.

Everytime I log on to the computer and have notes from my e-mail buddies at www.amyrdh.com I feel enriched by a part of a dynamic daily community effort to think and grow. The columns, articles and letters to the editor in RDH magazine keep us linked together, as do other hygiene publications. Continuing education programs and hygiene meetings on a local and state level keep our vital communication links open.

Isolation from one another fosters the growth of disillusionment and disenchantment. It does not promote a sense of community. Tragically, isolation has crippled many members of our profession emotionally, leaving some very talented people unable to feel joy, enthusiasm and energy about dental hygiene. While I feel that membership in our professional organization is critical, this is not a plea to join but rather an invitation for us to come together as a unique community of committed professionals. We have a lot to be thankful for and sharing with each other as a community will make each one of us better able to face our professional careers.

Most of us will never know all of the life complexities that lead a hygienist into the world of professional isolation. Playing the blame game is a waste of time. Guilt, anxiety, and negative feelings are the by-products of blame. If you are feeling left out, can you find the courage to join your dental hygiene community? If you are in the community, can you find it in your heart to reach out to a hygienist in isolation and invite her back into our community? It might be hard. You might face rejection, but imagine how much larger your professional comfort zone will be if you make the effort.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics (www.ergosonics.com). She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at anne@ergosonics.com.

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