For Ulla Sessions, the question isn't "why?" – it's "why not?" Whether she's designing a Web site, counseling patients on nutrition, managing a business, or enjoying her family, for this California hygienist ...
by Cat Zermatt Schmidt, RDH
What happens when a dental hygienist resolutely branches out into other projects and professional paths? Usually, the betterment of our profession as a whole. When hygienists expand their horizons, everyone benefits from the varied experiences they bring to the table. A great profession can only remain great when we encourage expansive thinking and multiplicity in our ranks.
When Ulla Maria Sessions decided to obtain doctorate in nutritional counseling, she became a rare bird in the field: a practicing dental hygienist who is also a doctor. Today, Sessions still performs hygiene three days a week and uses her nutrition training on a daily basis in the office. A type-A personality who revels in living life to the fullest, Sessions solidly fills the remaining days of her week. She's deeply absorbed with two businesses, volunteerism, and lavishing attention on her family and friends.
Sessions began her first career as a commercial graphic designer and model in her native Sweden. She built on this firm foundation of talents, diving headlong into computers and learning all she could about graphics and Web site design. Blending her publishing and advertising expertise into an online venture was inevitable, Sessions says. She explains that computer media is much more forgiving than print and more fun because of the instantaneous results – no waiting on the printing presses or for wet paint to dry. Every image is immediately uploaded and ready for viewing.
Now the proud owner of three Macs and three PCs, Sessions has put her computer classes to work by operating her own Web design service, Webs and Graphics (www.web sandgraphics.com). The true challenge of designing Web sites, she says, lies in the ability to coordinate eye-pleasing imagery and easy navigation with smaller images that dictate slow loading times. No easy trick!
Sessions uses her expertise to give back to the dental community. She assists the Orange County Dental Hygienists' Society with their Web site design and newsletter. As a volunteer, she created and manages the site (www.ocdhs.org) and produces the organization's newsletter – her way of offering her proficiency in computers to dentistry. Blending her love of dentistry and graphic design brings Sessions great satisfaction. She considers it a privilege and a blessing to use her talents to benefit others.
When her employers, a husband-and-wife dental team, needed a Web site, they naturally turned to Sessions. More dentists these days understand the vital need for a professionally produced Web presence, and Sessions's employers were smart enough to be part of that growing trend. Sessions designed a user-friendly Web site that introduces their practice to new patients and offers specific, straightforward information regarding various dental procedures. The practice utilizes the Web site as both a marketing and teaching tool for new and existing patients.
"One great advantage of our Web site is that patients can read answers to any questions they have while they are relaxing at home," says Sessions. "Once they are in the dental chair, many of them are too nervous to ask questions." Sessions often refers her patients to the Web site to gather facts on cleanings, root planings, fillings, crowns, etc.
Essentially, the site (www.murtaughdds.com) offers information on just about any dental treatment that could be performed in the office. With a quick click of the mouse, patients can easily access data, better understand their treatment plan, and gain answers to their most basic dental questions. Like many modern offices with comprehensive and professional Web sites, Sessions' patients arrive better informed, more calm, and ready for treatment. A schedule full of these patients would be heaven for most of us!
Any questions that Sessions' patients may have are usually pertinent to the specific course of action; the queries often provoke an informative dialogue. As we know, the higher our patient's dental IQ, the more likely they are to be part of the treatment, not merely a recipient of it. When we make our patients part of the process, they are motivated to follow through with homecare and post-procedural instructions. An involved, informed patient is a proactive one. That's why Sessions believes the main thrust of all office Web sites needs to be dental education.
All of the practitioners within this office appear on its Web site, and each has a bio. Patients who view the site before coming to the practice develop a sense of familiarity with the office and the people in it. As we all know, patients who feel like they already know their hygienist and dentist are much more comfortable in the chair than those who enter sight unseen. Sessions' bio on the Web page tells her unique story: "Once upon a time, a little girl named Ulla was born in a very small country far up by the Arctic Circle called Sweden, where the midnight sun shines and the polar bears walk the streets ... or so they say!"
Sessions is rightfully proud of her Swedish heritage. She's actively involved in Swedish Women's Educational Association (SWEA), and energetically seeks out and participates in local Swedish holiday celebrations within her community.
There's a little bit of Sweden in everything Sessions touches. Once, while designing a Web site for a Southern California hotel, Sessions added some charming window boxes on the facade of the building in her drawing, much like those that adorn houses and buildings in her homeland. The bright flowers added a warmth and coziness to her image of the hotel. They seemed to say, "This is home." The hotel owners were so taken with the simplistic beauty of Sessions's enhanced rendering that they had actual flower window boxes installed on their property.
From pets to people
Believe it or not, Sessions' passion for the hygiene profession began with her work in a veterinary clinic. She loves animals, and early on decided that working for a vet would satisfy her need to be surrounded with pets. Not long after starting, the vet asked her to clean the teeth of dogs and cats. This act did not come naturally to Sessions, because she'd had some difficult and painful root canals done earlier in life – without anesthesia. However, she found knocking off Spot's or Fluffy's calculus was quite an enjoyable way to spend her time. When her employer commented that he was sending his own daughter to dental hygiene school, it sparked something in Sessions. Cleaning pet teeth was fine, but she thought it would be much more enjoyable if she could interact and talk with her patients. An anesthetized Fido doesn't respond to a little scratch behind the ears!
Sessions' love of animals and artistic expertise evolved into yet another business venture, namely her own line of teddy bears, called Swedie BearsTM. Teddy bears, explains Sessions, are the opposite of what dentistry can be for some patients – a fearful and painful experience. Her Swedie BearsTM exude love and happiness and provide comfort for all ages.
Handmade teddy bear design became a business mainly because so many people collect them. Sessions began selling them and attending teddy bear shows, which gave her a chance to meet interesting people from all over the globe. Sessions took a two-year sabbatical from hygiene to perfect Swedie BearsTM. One bear can take her 30 to 40 or more hours to complete. The intricate craftsmanship is highly labor intensive. Sessions no longer sells these distinctive bears to the public, though she will craft one or two a year as a special favor to a friend or family member.
Family is first and foremost to Sessions, and her business endeavors have always taken a backseat to her loved ones. No matter how busy she becomes with projects, her truest fulfillment comes from her children and her husband. After coming to the United States, she married a man with five children and gave birth to two more. So, while getting her bachelor's degree in dental hygiene at the University of Southern California, Sessions balanced a full and demanding household of nine.
When her children were little, Sessions raised rabbits in her backyard. Picture a house full of kids, dental hygiene textbooks, and hundreds of bunnies in the yard! Her children loved to tend the Miniature French Lops rabbits and learned important lessons about compassion and responsibility. On commercial rabbit farms, up to 75 percent of the newborns died before maturity. Sessions wanted to improve these dautning odds. She enlisted the help of her vet, and, by utilizing the information she learned in nutrition classes, discovered that most commerical rabbit farms used the wrong type of feed. It lacked the proper nutrients and fiber the animals desperately needed. Sessions and the vet developed a cure for the ensuing viral disease. Together, they created an oral vaccine to combat the infection. It is now standard practice to give four-week old rabbits an oral vaccine that helps them build immunity to the virus.
Sessions and the vet never obtained a patent on their vaccine, though. She says she does these things because she's interested and she wants to help, never for the money – an important philosophy when pursuing one's passions.
"Creating relationships with others is what life is really about. Without that, it's not worth anything. Material things are irrelevant," Sessions states emphatically. "The friendships and the relationships that you have with your children and other people – that's what matters!"
Sessions is much more interested in life and living. The life she leads is rich with blessings that money can't buy: diverse and fulfilling interests and career, and the happy love of family and friends.
Dream a little dream ...
Find your passions! We all love dentistry, but, for most of us, one career is not enough! For example, the editors and writers at RDH all love the profession of dentistry and the world of publishing and editing. What sparks your interest outside dentistry?
Here are a few clues to help you unlock your hidden passions and develop what you love into a fulfilling hobby or bonus career. Take pen to paper or align your fingers on a keyboard and answer these questions. See where your words lead you!
- In what activity or activities do you "lose" yourself? In other words, what do you do that prevents you from glancing at the clock, where even hours can pass without your noticing? Hint: this is where you'll find your true passions.
- How would you spend your time/days if you could do anything where income didn't matter? What if there were zero obstacles (family, geography, money, education, et. al.) preventing you from the activity? How could you still pursue it and make it a part of your life?
- What would you do if no one was looking – no one to comment negatively about how "stupidO it is,O or "what a waste of timeO it is?
- What activities would you involve yourself if the outcome didn't matter? If you could do anything you wanted regardless of how good you were at it, how successful you were, or how perfect your results would be, what would you do?
- What talents do you have that align with dental hygiene? Which skills do you possess that are far removed from dentistry? How are these similar or dissimilar, and what ways can you develop these into hobbies or a second career?
Author's Note: To see examples of Sessions's Web design and logo work, go to www.websandgraphics.com. Readers can find additional examples of Sessions skills at the Orange County Dental Hygienists' Society Web page, www.ocdhs.org.
Cat Zermatt Schmidt, RDH, is a freelance writer living in San Jose, CA. Her book, "Not Just the Cleaning Lady: A Hygienist's Guide to Survival