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Mentoring works, folks

April 1, 2005
A New York hygienist by the name of Martha Geherin died 11 years ago this month.
Martha Geherin on the cover of the August 1990 issue.
Click here to enlarge image

A New York hygienist by the name of Martha Geherin died 11 years ago this month. She was traveling back home after wintering in South Carolina when she was involved in a fatal car accident.

Even though she was a RDH cover model four years earlier (August 1990 issue), I had no idea of her passing until this past February. The related article about Geherin focused on her work at the Veterans Administration hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y. Author Regina Dreyer Thomas had interviewed several hygienists for an article about “hospital hygienists,” but, for reasons I no longer remember, Geherin was chosen to pose for the cover.

It turns out that Geherin supervised a young graduate named Carol Pittinaro in 1975. Pittinaro was required to complete an independent study program at the hospital after graduation.

In a Feb. 4 letter to me, Pittinaro wrote, “I admired this dental hygienist (Geherin) for the work she did with these very special people ... She would handle these patients with no problems at all. As a matter of fact, they were so happy to see her; they were waiting with their toothbrush in hand. She was the first dental hygienist to give them any attention, let alone check on their teeth. If patients were confined to bed, she would go and visit. In clinic, she would show me many things.”

Toward the end of her letter, Pittinaro wrote of Geherin, “She sure inspired me to become an excellent dental hygienist. Something that I will always remember and never forget.”

I want to be perfectly clear about what I am going to say next: Pittinaro did not write her letter to me as an “entry” for the Mentor of the Year award that is publicized in this issue.

Pittinaro currently resides in Fairport, N.Y., where she still practices. She discovered that the father of a family treated by the practice grew up in Canandaigua.

“Then the world got smaller,” Pittinaro wrote, “I asked if he knew a hygienist whose name was Martha Geherin. He said, yes, she was his mother. I told him what a great hygienist his mother was. I’m treating the whole family now, which includes a wife and twin daughters.”

Geherin died when her granddaughters were just a few months old. Pittinaro was writing RDH because she wanted the granddaughters to see the article about their grandmother, wondering if we had an extra copy (we did, and we mailed one).

Mentoring works, folks. I sat staring at Pittinaro’s letter for at least 20 minutes longer than it took me to read it. I have no idea how long the “study program” lasted at the hospital. But it couldn’t have been too long, since graduates have to start earning income and paying bills. Yet, 30 years later, Pittinaro remembers a source of inspiration to her - enough to sit down and write me a letter about a gift that she wants to give back to her mentor’s family.

Jane Weiner, this year’s Mentor of the Year, bought classified advertising in RDH for her sideline business of tutoring hygienists preparing for state or national boards. The sales rep selling the ads finally introduced her to me several years ago because he thought a “story might be there.” He was right. You can fill up an whole issue of RDH with Jane Weiner stories, and, unfortunately, we had to limit Anne Guignon (last year’s recipient of the award) to writing just one article about Jane.

Jane has written a few articles for RDH over the years and always corresponds with me when time permits. It’s often more of a peripheral relationship in that, although she works very hard at mentoring, occasionally she will refer someone to me for assistance with a specific matter. Invariably, these letter writers gush for several paragraphs about what an inspiration Jane is to them. So I know first-hand that the judges made a good choice with Jane.

Mentoring works, folks.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].