Why a hygienist goes the extra mile just to be in Sydney.
Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH
When the Sydney 2000 Olympics begins in Australia later this month, Lori Stockert, RDH, will be there. The Bucks County, Pa., resident has been highly trained, was rigorously tested, and worked diligently to win her slot to attend. No, you won`t see her doing the butterfly stroke or the 200-yard dash. She won`t be high-fiving teammates in the thrill of victory or tearful in the agony of defeat. She won`t even get the chance to stand on the platform with a medal around her neck.
Instead, she is there to represent us, the hygienists of the USA, as she serves on the Olympic Dental Team.
How did she land such a wonderful opportunity? It all started in 1996 when Stockert went to Australia as part of a dental hygiene study tour. The group`s purpose was to explore what dentistry is like in southern Australia, but the tour ended up being more of a recruitment effort that encouraged U.S.-trained hygienists to consider employment opportunities in Australia.
"They have a shortage of hygienists there and really wanted to bring American dental hygienists into the country to work," she said.
Stockert knew Australia would host the 2000 Olympics, and she remembered an article in RDH "about a hygienist who said Olympic athletes always have a medical/dental team on site during the games. At the time, I thought that sounded very exciting." She decided to get her Australian license in 1997 just so she could be a part of the 2000 Olympic games experience.
The Australian dental hygiene board exam was a bit more grueling than what we have in the United States. She explained, "The four-hour written part of the exam was sort of like our national board exam. I got to take the written part here at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School. Then two months later, I went to Australia to take the clinical portion of the exam."
The clinical portion was three days long, and only four people are permitted to take it each year. (No wonder they have a hygienist shortage!) Stockert said the test was very comprehensive and included radiology, prophys on two perio patients provided by the testing agency, taking impressions, orthodontics (because hygienists are more involved with ortho in Australia), perio charting, and amalgam polishing.
Once Stockert passed her boards and obtained her Australian license, she had to petition the Olympic`s medical director to allow her to be on the dental team. She was interviewed and told it was "awfully early" to be volunteering for the team. But Stockert was determined to get her foot in the door. Early this year, she was thrilled to receive the letter that said she had been selected to be on the team. But at first it wasn`t quite what she planned.
"The letter said I had been accepted as a dental assistant. I was so upset! Nothing against dental assisting, but I had just gone through a lot and I wanted to be doing dental hygiene. I e-mailed them and they explained that dental hygiene was classified under a "dental assisting" umbrella of services. I would indeed be doing dental hygiene after all." Stockert began making her travel plans.
You would think that a dental team would be needed only for injuries, as athletes would have their dental care performed in their own country, but not so. "At the Olympics in Atlanta, over 950 dental services were provided," Stockert says. These included radiographs, mouthguards, root canals, temporary restorations, and preventive health services. "The dental services are for the athletes and their families, and many of the participants from Third World countries take advantage of having dental professionals there."
Stockert said the dental clinic resides in the Olympic Village and will offer three shifts for health care workers. The Olympics supplies her uniform, shoes, watch, and meals while she is working, as well as transportation to and from the Village.
Stockert`s expectations are just to be a part of the atmosphere, and maybe meet a few world-class athletes. "As a kid, I have always dreamed of being at the Olympics. I never thought my career choice would take me there. I`m thrilled just to be there and apply my skills," she said. "I know I`ll look back on this experience with my soon-to-be one-year-old daughter Sydni and hope she`ll dream big when it comes to making goals in her life. Maybe I`ll be a resource for someone else who will want to do this, too. So many people think I`m crazy to do this since I have spent so much money and it is a volunteer position. But I`m doing it for the experience. I can`t wait!"
Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor to RDH. She is based in Clarkston, Michigan.
Lori Stockert and daughter Sydni