BY EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS
It seems like yesterday that I was a student in the dental hygiene program at Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Dentistry. Fresh from high school, I was embarking on my education that would lead to my new profession. In retrospect, I knew very little about what I was getting into.
At the end of my junior year in high school I felt like I had to choose my career. I liked the idea of health care. I spent an afternoon in the guidance office looking at brochures that described various allied health profession categories. My uncle was my dentist, and while I loved him as family, I hated my visits to his office. I was a chicken, and Uncle Dan did little to make me feel better about being drilled without anesthesia. He did not employ a hygienist, nor do I have any recollection of having my teeth cleaned.
I knew nothing about dental hygiene. But the appeal of being in a health-care profession that I could become a part of after only two years in college, and the humanitarian aspect of helping others feel better about a visit to the dental office, inspired me. I also liked the idea of being able to work part-time and raise a family. So my career selection was quite pragmatic.
While at FDU, one guest lecturer left me with a remarkable impression. Unfortunately, I do not remember her name. What I do remember is that her workweek was diverse. She was an adjunct faculty member at more than one school. I know that she worked clinically in a private practice a couple of days each week. She also had some sort of public health position. It was fascinating to me that someone could have such variety.
After completing my BS degree at University of Rhode Island, I began working full-time with a dentist in Wickford, R.I. I enjoyed clinical dental hygiene in private practice, but it did not take long for me to remember the allure of the diverse professional life of that instructor. I enrolled in graduate school and attained an MS in health care management. Never again did I work full-time as a clinical RDH.
I followed the guest lecturer's lead, and through the years I've enjoyed the diversity of a workweek that leads me to a different professional environment every day. For more than two decades I have continued to practice clinically, but always on a part-time basis. Teaching, both clinically and in the classroom, have become a huge part of my life. Writing, speaking, consulting, marketing, and entrepreneurialism are all professional joys for me, and a means to earn a living while devoting time to raising my daughter. We are so fortunate to be a part of this amazing profession of dental hygiene, this vehicle that affords us the opportunity to change people's lives. This is not something to be taken lightly!
This sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Yet it is not even the main message of this column. Should you decide to walk in my dental hygiene shoes, I want to forewarn you about one aspect that I did not think much about - the price that I pay for my schedule's diversity has led to a lack of security. I am a single mother, and I buy my own health-care benefits. Vacations would be nice, but if I'm not working, I am not earning any income. Am I all set for the golden years of my life? Not exactly!
Note: I despise Monday morning quarterbacking and never engage in it because I believe we all make decisions at certain times in our lives that are important for whatever the reason. No use in crying over spilled milk, so to speak.
What I would like to do is urge any hygienist who has the desire for diversity to plan ahead financially for the future. Think about getting that four-year degree, or beyond; it can potentially open doors and propel you forward. And do not blame the system or any dentist for how he or she chooses to run his or her business. It is so easy for us to label conditions as an employer's fault. It is what it is and we are the ones who signed on for it. There can be no whining!
As for me, I'm going to make up for lost time. My black cat Bella fell down my stairs last night, yet landed on her feet. I intend to do the same, because life holds no accidents.
Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core!