Shirley Gutkowski, RDH

Dec. 1, 2003
At a very young age, Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, knew she wanted to be a teacher and an actress. While the other children played games during summer vacation, Shirley played "school."

By Ann-Marie C. DePalma

At a very young age, Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, knew she wanted to be a teacher and an actress. While the other children played games during summer vacation, Shirley played "school." She also put on shows with her cousins, since her brothers were not interested in acting. Dental hygiene has enabled Shirley to combine her love of teaching and acting into her career as a clinician, author and speaker. Not many people know that practicing dental hygiene is a lot like being an actress. Dental hygienists have a new audience every 45 minutes, and each show runs for six months!

Course background

Shirley has developed several programs to entice motivated hygienists to try new strategies. One program that has the umbrella title of "Ultimate Prevention Plan" is actually two programs. One is called, "Boomers and Beyond," and the other one is titled, "Conception to College."

Each program focuses on the various stages of patients' oral health. "Boomers and Beyond" focuses on caring for mid-life to elderly patients. Whether as a sounding board, pre-diagnostician or co-therapist, this half-day program discusses adult milestones and the various ways hygienists can incorporate preventive strategies for all of their patients' life events. The second part of the "Ultimate Prevention Plan" focuses on younger patients, from conception to college age. This program discusses strategies that help children grow up free of dental decay.

Another program Shirley enjoys presenting is "Minimally Invasive Dentistry." Any dental professional who has been frustrated in telling patients how to brush better to decrease dental decay should attend this program. With today's technology and the remineralization therapies available, hygienists are key players in enamel re-growth, an area that most hygienists don't know much about. Throughout her programs Shirley covers areas that dental professionals can help prevent, such as oral injury and personal physical injury.

Speaker's strategy

Shirley has developed her programs in PowerPoint. To save on printing, she often includes only the slides in her handouts that have "global" impact.

Because she feels confined behind a podium, her presentations are not from the podium, nor does she move around a lot. Several members of her local Toastmasters Club have adopted her style of addressing the audience from in front of the podium.

Comments from course participants range from, "Shirley has great energy and knows how to keep attention," to "Great info to take back to the office and patients."

Shirley enjoys the "light bulb" moments in her audiences. These are when participants' expressions change from confusion or skepticism to "Ah ha!" when she explains something.

When preparing a presentation, Shirley enjoys researching and developing the topic from an idea to completed presentation. She loves the products she recommends and is thrilled when manufacturers support her presentations.

Personal background

Shirley is a 1986 graduate of the Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin. She worked for 13 years before enrolling in the degree completion program at Marquette University. So driven was she to complete her degree that Shirley drove the three-hour round trip from her home in Sun Prairie, Wis., to Milwaukee for the four-hour classes. She accomplished her goal in 14 months.

Along with writing and speaking, Shirley has some new projects. She is collaborating with Amy Nieves on a book titled, The Purple Guide to a Dental Hygiene Career. It will help newly graduated hygienists move from the world of college and dental hygiene school to the real world of dental practice. It will include information on insurance codes, resume writing, and a hygienist's typical day in a practice. Amy and Shirley are planning to launch their book at the RDH's "Under One Roof" Conference in California in March 2004.

One of Shirley's professional concerns for dental hygiene is the lack of autonomy in the profession. If dental hygiene had a structure similar to nursing, more hygienists could seek alternatives in long-term care facilities, hospitals, pediatrics, schools, or group homes. Shirley discusses such ideas in her RDH column, "Thinking Sharply."

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a practicing hygienist in a periodontal-implant practice.She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, is active in the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association, and is a Fellow of the Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries and Practice Management.Ann-Marie has written articles and presents programs on dental implants, TMD, and developmental delays and can be reached at [email protected].