by JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD
In your career, where do you get your inspiration? I was asked this by a colleague who commented on my work as a dental hygienist. After some thought, it occurred to me that my inspiration comes from world events, work experiences, and family life. I suspect that might be the same for most of us.
I recently found myself working in academia for three different dental hygiene education programs – two associate degree programs and one graduate program. I had not committed myself to formal instruction for quite some time, and I forgot the great joy I find in working with students.
The graduate students are obtaining degrees to become educators. Some are novices and others have vast teaching experience. We worked on an online advanced education theory and methods course. The students worked hard and produced some of the most interesting curricular papers I have ever seen.
These students gave a great deal of time and energy to help each other learn and develop over the semester. I found myself admiring them for continually challenging each other to improve their ideas and products. They were a source of support for each other, and I sometimes wonder if we would do better in clinical practice if we developed support networks to help us continually challenge ourselves to be more skilled and informed. I am not talking about study clubs as much as a support network that inspires collegiality and investment in one another's career, something that seems hard to achieve when working in isolation in an operatory.
Then there are the undergraduate students in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I had not had the pleasure of working with any members of the millennial generation. Gone are the days when students can attend college and just focus on themselves and their learning. These students are married or single with children, have serious financial woes, cultural pressures, spouses in the military, and learning challenges. Add to that a world of technological advances, and it is easy to appreciate how complicated things are for these students.
Both groups of students came to class full of energy and enthusiasm, willing to learn and listen, and trying to relate what was being taught to their understanding of dental hygiene clinical care. I was inspired by their intelligence, work ethic, care and concern for one another, respect and maturity, and willingness to work hard.
Over the course of the semester, I tried to convey how important and special all these students were to me. They showed me hope for the future of dental hygiene. They taught me that they were focused on doing their best for their patients and students. I was very impressed by them.
This experience reminded me how important it is to be supportive and to say something positive to those who represent our future. It is easy for them to focus on points missed on a test or paper, or on the deposits missed during clinical sessions. It's easy for us as educators to see the downside of our students rather than their benefits. I find they demonstrate great courage as they juggle so many things. Their goals are many – to improve life for their families, do something honorable and worthwhile, and be productive as health-care providers.
It is the time of year when students are graduating from their dental hygiene programs. I hope these students succeed in their careers. I hope other dental hygiene educators feel as I do – privileged to be with the individuals who represent the future of the profession, and fortunate to have been able to work with them. I hope we all start working to create the structure that allows us to support one another and remind one another how important we are to those we serve. Our patients deserve our best, but we deserve our best, too.
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