Great hygienists are made, not born

May 27, 2005
A "self-improvement" course in dental hygiene strengthens the skills of professionals who desire to keep learning and getting better.

By Kristine A. Hodsdon RDH, BS

The skills and expertise we have gleaned so far from our careers did not come from a magic potion. It was not a spell that instantly transformed us into the clinical hygienists* we are today. Our successes and who we are as professionals are a process, a process of continual improvement. To constantly strive for improvement, we have to take the time to focus on, review and understand our daily hygiene processes and protocols we carry out every clinical day.

So, what that means is that we must work on our hygiene skills, not just in our profession.

The checklist below on 12 areas of clinical hygiene can be used as a template to re-visit your procedures and refine your hygiene protocols. Feel free begin with these 12 areas and add your own sub-categories, or shuffle and add to these sections to more specifically reflect your clinical environment.

Whether you are tackling these areas for improvement by yourself or with other hygienists, begin organizing weekly growth meetings. The meeting can easily be one hour per week during the working hours (or, perhaps more realistically, the lunch hour.) Then set aside 30 minutes to one hour per week after hours. The after hours time is a minor commitment to follow-up on any needed research or additional materials required to improve the "area of the week."

At the weekly growth meetings, focus only on one area at a time. The meeting should be totally proactive not reactive. Begin by asking yourself:

• What can I do today, right now to improve my skill at ...?

• What's a gentle challenge I can set for myself about ...?

• What's the most tangible, measurable improvement I can make during the next week?

• Can I put a heavier focus on solutions and actions rather than problems?

The twelve areas, tackling one per week, should take you 12 weeks to cover all of the areas. At the end of the 12 weeks, you can start the process all over again. This will allow you to cover these areas about four times a year. That consistency and the ability to break down and re-visit the tasks will get you the great results you deserve. New skills and good habits only develop through a repeated process.

The Hygiene 12

• Standard of hygiene care

• Technology integration

• Ergonomics

• Clinical technique evaluation

• Clinical protocols

• Treatment planning

• Enrollment skills

• Auxiliary training/assisted hygiene

• Compliance issues

• Management systems

• Communication styles

• Continuing education programs

Remember, when the process of improvement is immediate by taking small steps, it can lead to a better sense of control and a higher likelihood of continued effort and success. And if you don't completely solve the problem or reach the goal the first time around, no worries, you will revisit it again in 12 weeks.

*For this version of "Great Hygienists are made, not Born," I focused on methods to improve and develop skills for practicing hygienists. Acknowledging that we all have unique roles and may want to work on other areas within dental hygiene — for example, speaking, writing, manufacturer/ sales representative, educator or consultant — those roles will be addressed in future issues.

Kristine has gained her wings with 21 years in the industry - tackling everything from dental assisting, clinical hygiene and adjunct teaching to international speaking/ writing and success in sales. She is the Director, for RDH e-Village, an on-line newsletter published by the PennWell Corporation. She currently speaks and consults on marketing, communication skills, and future issues affecting dental hygiene. Kristine is a proud member of the NSA, ADHA, IFDH, IADR, and ACCD. To schedule Kristine to speak contact her by e-mail at [email protected] or visiting