2014 Mentor of the Year

April 4, 2014
"I had braces," 17-year-old Susanne Kuehl said to herself in 1975, musing over a career choice. "Dentistry sounds interesting …"
Philips Sonicare and RDH magazine recently announced that Susanne Kuehl, RDH, BS, of Kittery, Maine, is the Mentor of the Year

By Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

"I had braces," 17-year-old Susanne Kuehl said to herself in 1975, musing over a career choice. "Dentistry sounds interesting …"

Like many women in the 1970s, Susanne received little adult guidance in high school. As she thought about dentistry, she realized that committing to college, then graduate school, didn't appeal to her, so she opted for an accelerated dental hygiene program at Westbrook College in Portland, Maine, graduating in 1977. While there, instructor Barbara McCormick suggested she might do well in dental sales, though Susanne had no clue, at the time, how to pursue that option.

Her first part-time job was with Dr. Bernie Lowenthal, a periodontist in Portsmouth, N.H. "I learned so much in those first few years," she recalls. "Our office worked with some of the best restorative dentists in the area, and the collegiality among our staffs was remarkable." She also worked part-time for Dr. Peter Thomas in Hampton, N.H. "I credit both of these employer-mentors, who honed my ability to help patients understand their perio-prosthetic treatment planning. I believe a dental hygienist's main role is value clarification, because when you value a healthy smile, you are happy to pay for quality oral health care."

Susanne loves her home in Kittery, Maine, where for years she attended a dozen soccer/basketball/baseball games per week.


To read more about past recipients of the award...


"I was a true soccer mom, PTA president, and community activist. I give full credit to my children and personal trainers, Kendra, 26, Connor, 25, Kevin, 22, and Cole, 21, for teaching me to prioritize, organize, and keep all plates spinning while staying grounded in what matters. They are happy, healthy, and almost fully launched into their own careers, so I have more time for my own goals now."

Besides being a voracious reader, Susanne is an outdoor enthusiast who "enjoys all Maine has to offer." She loves the Northeast sports teams, especially the Boston Celtics. "I practically bleed green. Dave Cowens, are you single and available?"

Susanne says that she needs authentic dialogue "like air to breathe, and I love a good conversation about politics." She's a true Star Trek fan, and believes that all nations can work together. "Like Miss Congeniality, I want world peace."

She describes herself as a "border hygienist" who lives in Maine but has mostly worked "over the bridge" in New Hampshire. Advocacy work, she says, is closer in New Hampshire, so her ADHA constituent membership is there. She does try to help out with legislative issues in both states.

Besides her employers, Susanne was also mentored by hygienists who liked her style. "I became involved with local and state association leadership, and my bully pulpit advocacy style caught the attention of Cindy Noonan, who chose me as one of seven hygienists to join the Oral-B Advisory Board in 1986." She stayed an additional two years as chair, with past ADHA president Cathy Turbyne as her mentor.

"I have been truly blessed," she says, "to be surrounded by the best of dental hygiene professionals who I am proud to call friends. I agree with Epictetus, who said, ‘The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.'

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu," Susanne says. "I am proud to have influenced how far NHDHA has come to advance the profession in five short years. Our stakeholders now invite us to the health-care table as recognized experts in prevention.

"No one creates change alone, and the key is to ‘hold hands' with colleagues around a shared vision and strategic plan. State associations must learn how to work as a board with shared responsibility for the fiduciary health and reputation of the association."

Accomplishments of NHDHA, Susanne says, include the authorization of sealants without an exam, the establishment of a dental hygiene committee, and the addition of Interim Therapeutic Restoration to public health supervision.

"We are currently supporting SB193, a midlevel therapist bill that adds restorative training to a dental hygiene education/license. Vermont and Maine have similar bills and language in 2014," she points out, "so stay tuned … opposition is strong!"

ADHA membership, Susanne stresses, is her number one recommendation to all dental hygiene professionals. One of her favorite quotes, from Teddy Roosevelt, is, "Every man owes some part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has the moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere."

When Susanne reached a point in her career that she needed a new challenge, she moved into dental sales for ProDentec, selling the Rotadent brush in New Hampshire and Maine. With four children, at that point ages 5, 4, 2, and newborn, her time was limited, but she kept her fingers in dental hygiene by working part-time for Dr. Carolyn Chase with, as she says, "a great bunch of ladies."

Susanne was single again in 2003 when her next sales/marketing job, with Tom's of Maine as manager of professional relations, came about after she attended a Chamber of Commerce event about values-based leadership with Tom Chappell. "He forwarded my emails (about leadership, not toothpaste) to Dr. Kerry Maguire, newly hired director of professional relations. Maguire called me, saying, ‘This is destiny knocking, please apply for our new team leader role.'"

Her "coulda-shoulda-woulda" regret at that point, she says, "was not having that darn BS degree. I went back to school at Daniel Webster College in Portsmouth, N.H., at night, completing my marketing management degree in 2008."

She calls her coworkers at Tom's of Maine, including Wendy St. Cyr and Diane Peterson, "fabulous," but unfortunately that team dissolved after Colgate acquired the company in 2006 and new business objectives were set. She assumed the new role of associate brand manager in oral care, then partnerships manager. After an organizational restructuring in late 2013, Susanne has found herself looking for new job opportunities.

"I think," she says, "I was always destined for corporate and nonprofit work. However, traveling every day on the road, attending meetings or working at trade shows is not as glamorous as it looks. Sales and marketing roles require much more than clinical knowledge. One must have gumption, coupled with computer savvy, persuasive selling, the ability to achieve quarterly objectives, plus organizational and networking skills. I feel called to the nonprofit world and love promoting professional advocacy, leadership, and collaborative partnerships with our colleagues in health care. I feel like the Richard Dreyfus character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- invited.

Now she is looking for a new career home with a company or organization that values professional endorsement and oral health for all. "As a professional marketing manager with strong organizational skills and broad knowledge of the oral health-care industry, my field of expertise is diverse and I have developed my management/sales skills in the consumer packaged goods and dental industries."

As a seasoned hygienist with years of clinical and business experience, Susanne has seen both the evolution and stagnation of dental hygiene over the years. "The need for transformation to remain relevant has never been greater. The future is already here and we must adapt to the new landscape.

"We are living in a time when people believe they have less and less influence on events. Hygienists typically believe that the ‘enemy' is ‘out there' and ‘others' are the reason we have not moved forward as a profession. It is hard work to recognize mental models -- in other words, deeply ingrained assumptions or generalizations that influence how we understand the world and how we take action -- that limit our ability to see that WE are the problem AND the solution.

"To all other baby boomer mentors out there, this is our time to lead and guide the profession through its next evolution. The unifying principle of transformation is to grow or die. It's time to move the conversation to tomorrow's opportunities and grow together to create the future we desire."

It's disconcerting to have a mentor of the year who is between jobs, but instead of looking at it as an unfortunate consequence of the recession, we can view it as a turning point in an already distinguished career. Hygienists in a similar situation can be grateful for a mentor who has been in their shoes, and whose outlook is worth adopting: "I see endless possibility and look forward to the next chapter of my career journey."

Susanne Kuehl was nominated by three dental hygienists, and their nominations included the following comments:

Pam Delahanty, RDH, Francestown, N.H.
"Have you ever met a person who makes you feel you are capable of doing anything you put your mind to? Someone who makes you feel you already have everything you need to do great things, to make a difference? I am fortunate that I am able to answer yes.

"Five years ago, with an interest in becoming more involved in helping expand access to dental care, I attended an NHDHA Board of Trustees meeting. I was a little nervous and embarrassed that I knew so little about the NHDHA. Everything was foreign to me. What I found was a very welcoming, organized, professional committee of women led by Susanne. I quickly learned all the amazing things that had been accomplished under her leadership.

"Since that first meeting, Susanne has been an incredible mentor to me. She has gently nudged, encouraged, and educated me through each and every step of my professional journey and involvement within NHDHA. I have never been more involved nor more passionate about my profession. I consider Susanne a leader, a visionary, a mentor, and a friend."

Ellen Legg, RDH, Portsmouth, N.H.
"Susanne has not only been a mentor but a confidant and friend. I first met Susanne at a local component meeting and she stood out right away as someone who thought things through and stood up for her convictions. Her conversations are thought-provoking, interesting, and focused – no matter what the subject. I have watched her speak one-on-one with legislators, lobbyists, educators, salespeople, fellow hygienists, and dentists. She has a confident but respectful way of getting her point across. She does this after doing research, asking questions, and listening, then presents it all with humor and aplomb.

"I have tried to emulate this confident attitude when it has been my turn to speak and negotiate with others. Susanne has been there to counsel me when I have felt insecure about my style and voice, and not once have I felt judged harshly but supported and appreciated.

"I have observed over the years and have learned by watching Susanne that she has a resiliency that is humble yet confident, and that is exactly how she mentors others. Her kindness and straightforward approach have enabled me and many other RDHs to continue on when discouraged and feel proud of the profession we have chosen."

Charlene Ouellette, RDH, Bedford, N.H.
"I have to thank Susanne for giving me a vision of what I wanted out of my profession. She inspired me before she even knew it. Everyone has their time in their career to give back. I knew one day I would get the chance to work with her on a state level. I never dreamed she would mentor me into the presidency of the NHDHA. I continue to seek her counsel for every aspect of this position. Susanne will call me just to lend a hand or to talk through a strategic plan for the next bill in the N.H. state government. She has mentored me to make calls in the most difficult situation I've ever had.

"I always take away a new perspective from her. I'm so thankful for what she brings to our BOT as well. She is a force that pushes us all to expect more from ourselves. I'm a better person to have met this great dental hygienist."

2014 Mentor of Distinction Joyce Turcotte

Joyce Turcotte, RDH, MEd, FAADH, of Monroe, Conn., had several initial reactions when she received the call that she had been named the 2014 Mentor of Distinction.

"I was surprised," she recalls, "and after I absorbed the news, I felt tremendous joy. I truly appreciate the kind words of those who submitted my name. It means a lot to me that my colleagues would take the time to recommend me. I had attended the ADHA award ceremonies for other recipients, never thinking that this honor would come to me."

A graduate of New York City Community College, the University of Bridgeport, and Temple University, Joyce has taught at the Community College of Philadelphia, the University of Bridgeport, Tunxis Community College, and Nova Dental School. She practices clinically with Dr. Cynthia Bartolone in Fairfield, Conn., and is the founder and president of Professional Learning Services LLC, a continuing education and consulting company. She is also the host of the dental hygiene forum on LinkedIn, which has more than 2,000 members worldwide.

As an ADHA and AADH member she has served in many offices, including AADH president, CDHA president, and HyLight editor.

She was nominated by Geralyn Beers of Guilford, Conn., Maggie Ceccherini of Southington, Conn., and Cathie Collier of Bridgeport, Conn.

Joyce has had wonderful mentors, she says, in her own life that have provided immense guidance.

"My mentors were proud of my accomplishments, and I want to pay it forward. I will continue to do what I can to help hygienists think outside the box, find their inner strength and passion, and challenge them to excel.

"Being a mentor is a very special role. It is a deep connection between two people comprised of respect, mutual growth, and appreciation. It is honest, sincere, and compassionate. In my opinion, the role of a mentor is to plant seeds, nurture, challenge the status quo, listen, and promote critical thinking."

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, has worked in pediatric dentistry for 11 years. She is a frequent contributor to dental magazines, works part-time as an indexer, and is the author of two novels and more than a dozen short stories.

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