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Spotlight on dental director

Aug. 1, 2006
Christine Murphy graduated with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene in 1997.

Christine Murphy graduated with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene in 1997. Since then she has been busy! She received numerous awards in college and has been inducted as a member of Sigma Phi Alpha, the National Dental Hygiene Honor Society. She has held various officer positions in the local dental hygienists’ association and teaches part time at the University of New Mexico.

Christine currently holds the position of dental director at Pueblo of Isleta Dental Clinic. She started at Isleta as a staff dental hygienist shortly after graduation. Within one year, she had taken on the managerial role of dental director. The clinic has grown from having one part-time hygienist and one full-time dentist to one full-time hygienist and one part-time hygienist, two full-time dentists, several contract dentists, two dental specialists, and five dental assistants. Her efforts have allowed the clinic to treat more patients and really enhance dental care for the Pueblo! In addition, Christine wrote the proposal to allow the Pueblo of Isleta to run the program apart from the Indian Health Service, thereby dramatically increasing the budget.

I recently asked Christine some questions ...

Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?

Christine Murphy
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I had four small children and my husband’s back went out. He suggested I go back to school to become a dental hygienist, because he knew I could not support our family as a dental assistant. It was a difficult decision because I had been out of high school for 15 years at that time. I wasn’t a great student in high school, but age does wonders. I graduated from dental hygiene school with a 3.98 GPA summa cum laude and have realized that I love dental hygiene!

How did you get into dental public health? Did you need additional education?

I did not need additional education, because I graduated from UNM with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. I got into public health slowly, but surely.

When I graduated from UNM, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I worked in private practice one day a week, taught at UNM two days a week, and worked for a temp service one day a week. I answered an advertisement for a full-time hygiene position at the Isleta Dental Clinic, but informed the dentist that I was only available part time because of my teaching commitment. I started out at the clinic part time two days a week. Within six months I had quit temping and private practice and was working three days a week with the tribe. Eventually the tribe offered me the position of dental director, and I currently work four days per week.

What is your current position?

I am the dental director for the Pueblo of Isleta, and I see patients in the clinic two days per week. Additionally, I serve as an adjunct faculty member for the University of New Mexico dental hygiene students who rotate through my clinic.

Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health career?

Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health career?

Not long after starting here, I began trying to learn some of the language. The language is beautiful, but not written, so each person must learn from another. I quickly learned that you should be very careful who you ask to teach you the language. I asked one patient how to say a particular phrase, but when I repeated it, the meaning was definitely not what I intended. It could have been quite embarrassing, but the person I repeated the phrase to was very understanding.

What advice would you give to a practicing hygienist who is thinking of doing something different?

Try anything and everything. In school I never even considered public health as an option. I had been a dental assistant in private practice for years, so I just assumed that’s where I would practice dental hygiene. When I got into public health, I realized how much I loved being able to practice hygiene to the best of my ability without any other factors involved. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the patient can afford scaling and root planing, or anyone making me sell dentistry.

Working in public health has been such a great experience. I have met the most fantastic people - not just in the patients I see, but the other providers whom I work with ... and not just in my clinic, but across the nation.