Nov. 1, 2007
Author spreads awareness of dental hygienists’ skills by participating in Renal Supprt Network

Author spreads awareness of dental hygienists’ skills by participating in Renal Supprt Network

by Cheryl A. Thomas, RDH

I love football. Growing up in Texas as a tomboy during the 1960s and 1970s, watching football players and coaches was a weekly ritual. Coaches like Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers and Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys were my idols for their ability to instill a sense of pride and teamwork in their players that resulted in feats of athletic greatness and extraordinary victories.

Lombardi and Landry knew that teamwork is a coordinated effort on the part of a group of people working as a team toward a common goal. Even though they were the leaders and directed the team’s progress, they were also part of the team.

In dentistry, when we use terms such as interdisciplinary care or collaborative care, we extend our traditional idea of “team” (interoffice) to encompass other health-care specialties to obtain a better quality of care for our patients.

In dental hygiene the benefits of working with other health-care specialties and community organizations are many.

  • In collaborative care, several specialties combine and consequently the patient receives a higher level of care.
  • Secondly, dental hygienists working with other specialties will gain knowledge and experience in another area in which they might otherwise be ignorant.
  • When dental hygienists work with other specialties, it gives the profession the opportunity to educate others of our ability to perform beyond clinical dental hygiene procedures.
  • Lastly, when we invite patients to actively participate in their own health care, we complete the interdisciplinary model of care.

One day in 2004, I was surfing the Internet and found the Renal Support Network (RSN). RSN is a patient-based support group for people living with chronic renal disease. I first contacted the group because I wanted to publish oral health information on their Web site for their members to read. The founder, Lori Hartwell, responded with delight, “You must have read my mind! I have wanted to add a section on oral health to the Web site!” I was so excited to be able to share my knowledge of oral health with a group that was near and dear to my heart and would really benefit!

A few months passed and I received an e-mail from RSN. They were introducing their PEPP program (Patients Educating Patients & Professionals) and were looking for patients who were interested in educating other patients and medical health-care providers about kidney disease issues through a new public speaking program. I immediately filled out the application, mailed it off, and crossed my fingers.

I was accepted into the program, along with 20 other people living with kidney disease. In January 2006, we convened in Los Angeles for five days. We were sponsored through an educational grant from the pharmaceutical company Amgen and were instructed by a cohesive group of renal patients, renal health-care providers, and a professional speaking coach. During our stay, we learned about kidney disease and anemia, secondary hyperparathyroidism, and how to communicate effectively with health-care providers.

For the past year, the PEPP speakers have traveled throughout the United States educating renal patients about anemia and secondary hyperparathyroidism. Ultimately, our goal is to inspire patients living with kidney disease to become active participants in their own health care and thereby improve their quality of life.

We have also spoken to numerous health-care providers (nephrologists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, dialysis technicians, etc.) about the positive benefits of health care that are based around patient participation. The medical profession’s response to our efforts has been one of overwhelming support.

In addition to the oral health in-service programs I have delivered to patients and renal health-care providers, my involvement with the renal community has now expanded to include patients living with diabetes and their health-care providers. This new direction has given me the opportunity to interact with endocrinologists, certified diabetes educators, and other medical disciplines associated with diabetes, as well as attend a CDC Diabetes Training Conference.

Working with other health disciplines has definitely been a positive experience, giving me the opportunity to enrich the lives of patients and learn volumes of information about renal health care. I have also been able to educate the medical community not only about oral health, but about the positive attributes of the profession of dental hygiene.

In addition to public speaking and writing, occasions for dental hygienists to interact with other medical specialties and community groups are abundant. From calling a medical provider regarding a mutual patient, to volunteering for a project through your local dental hygiene association - opportunity awaits.

We will achieve greatness and broaden the horizons of dental hygiene when we lead the movement toward collaborative care and reach out for alliances beyond our office doors. As we expand our traditional definition of “teamwork” and embrace an interdisciplinary model of care supported by multiple medical specialties, community organizations, patients, and the dental hygiene profession, we will improve not only the lives of our patients, we will improve our society. When we work cohesively toward this common goal, we shall all become “winners” in the game of life.

About the Author

Cheryl A. Thomas, RDH, currently resides in Galveston, Texas. She can be contacted at [email protected], or visit her Web site at