Content Dam Rdh Print Articles Volume37 Issue6 1706rdhfmee P01

Role models and a basket of vegetables: You’ll remember the dental professionals who paused to help

June 1, 2017
Linda Meeuweberg, RDH, discusses how mentoring leaves a lasting impression on dental professionals.

By Linda Meeuwenberg, RDH, MA, MA

In the 2008 book, “The Elements of Mentoring,” W. Brad Johnson and Charles Ridley wrote that mentoring relationships “are dynamic, reciprocal, personal relationships in which a more experienced person acts as a guide, role model, teacher, and sponsor of a less experienced person.”

How many of you can think of people who influenced your life choices? Was it someone who encouraged you as a child to excel in a sport, or someone who held your hand when you were scared about experiencing something new? Did you have a teacher who encouraged and inspired you? I hope everyone can answer yes.

Or, have you encouraged and inspired another person, whether a child, family member, or another hygienist? Recently, I had a former student contact me to tell me how much I inspired her as a student and post graduate. The stories my former students remember are endearing to me and often I have no recollection of the moment in time that was so significant to them. These were usually spontaneous encounters with no thought about how it would impact that person. However, years later, I am blessed with numerous such remembrances from several former students. These stories are just one of the many joys of teaching.

Although I never set out to be a mentor or role model, it happened. I was the first-born child with four younger brothers. Maybe I was destined to become a role model? I was often charged with the responsibility of caring for my younger siblings and had a job babysitting my little cousin and my neighbors’ children. I was frequently reminded by my mother that I always needed to behave appropriately as younger siblings were watching.

We were taught to respect our elders and I looked up to neighboring women and the elders in my family. As I reflect, these were my first role models. I lived in a small Michigan town with extended family living close by. I was always intrigued by two of my cousin’s moms who lived in our neighborhood. Both were career women unlike the women in my family, and one was a World War II pilot. She was also a published author and an advocate for women. The women in my family were stay-at-home moms and served as the CEO of the family; their full-time job consisted of managing the home. Like my role models, I thought I would grow up to do the same.

However, my destiny took me in a different direction. I admired my aunts and grandmothers who taught me about gardening, food preservation, sewing, laundry, kindness, manners, work ethic, and so many more skills that would carry me through my life. They were my first role models and mentors.

My parents and mentors were admired by everyone in the neighborhood, as they were the youth directors in our church. In addition, my dad coached baseball teams for my younger brothers and taught all the neighborhood children and his grandchildren various sports.

My mother was the mom of the neighborhood, as she fed hungry friends of my brothers and always had a good listening ear. She didn’t hesitate to chastise them if they needed it for bad behavior. She always had something good to eat in her kitchen. As an adult, even if I wasn’t hungry, I always found that I couldn’t pass up my mom’s kitchen. The kitchen is where we entered my parent’s home and it always had aromas of fresh brewed coffee, roast beef, baked goods, or homemade soup. I remember her befriending a young neighbor who moved in next door with two small children. Once again, I was destined to model my parents as my first role models.

Whereabouts of mentors

Role models and mentors are essential as we progress in our chosen career path. Remember when you first graduated from your dental hygiene program? You were excited and yet nervous at the same time. You experienced self-doubt as you explored working in your profession wondering if you could manage it all in a much shorter time than you had in school. How did you cope with these emotions? Several of you found mentors in your office or within your local dental hygiene component and eventually assumed leadership positions. You were mentored and became the mentee to new graduates.

Others relied on their dental hygiene classmates, alumni, or even faculty advisors. I was fortunate to have worked for a dentist and his wife in my senior year in high school. Without their great guidance and mentoring, I would not have chosen dental hygiene as a career. They planted the seed and I am forever grateful.

As I write this article, it is the International Women’s Day celebration. I listened to an interview with Tory Burch, Founder of the Tory Burch Foundation and a very successful entrepreneur. She stated, “I realized early on that if I wasn’t out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t thinking big enough.” She went on to say how important mentors were to her in pushing her beyond her comfort zone. I assume that many of you were out of your comfort zone on that first day of employment as a dental hygienist.

For me, I was raised by a strong woman and I looked to her for guidance throughout my lifetime, especially as a dental hygiene student. She encouraged me to work harder when I was unhappy with a low grade I got on a quiz the first semester. Later she would mentor me as I became a mother myself. As an educator, I was introduced to many mothers of my students. I received numerous thank you notes from mothers for caring for their daughters while away from home for the first time and being a good role model. It is another heartwarming moment of teaching. I encourage you to read “10 Things You Learn From Being Raised By A Strong Mother” on Thought Catalog.

Whether you were a male hygiene student or female, I hope you had a strong mother that pushed, guided, and loved you through your stressful times and served as your first role model. Pick up the phone to thank her.

Finding a mentor

Nearly every business book I have read recommends two things for success: mentoring and networking. This is precisely why I enjoy the benefits of being active with my local dental hygiene component. I serve as a board member and have the opportunity to plan the direction of our association. Hygienists are often isolated in their little part of the office, having minimal communication with the rest of the team, let alone another hygienist. As a new hygienist, it is essential to discuss cases with other hygienists. It doesn’t take long to realize that what you learned in school was just an introduction to the practice of dental hygiene.

Hopefully you are continuing to learn as I have. In my sixties, I still have so much more to learn! I enjoy going to RDH Under One Roof and the ADHA Annual Session annually, in addition to other conferences. I would become very bored with dental hygiene, if I wasn’t learning about new products, technology, and meeting professional colleagues to talk “shop.”

Many authors and even my mother warned me that you become like the people you spend the most time with. Therefore, find people you admire and would like to emulate. I once heard a speaker at a women’s conference say to always surround yourself with people smarter than you. You will always be learning. That’s good advice that has served me well.

Without role models and mentors from the time I was a child, I am certain I would not have experienced the successes in my career from a clinical dental hygienist, to an educator, to an entrepreneur. I learned so much from my grandmother while helping with the garden. Whether shucking peas, pulling weeds, or transplanting seedlings we grew in the basement, they were all magical learning moments. There was always a basket of vegetables in her kitchen. She and my mother instilled the value of serving others. They were both active volunteers in our community and church. It is a value that I cherish as I embark on volunteer activities to improve the oral health of others, especially those with little access to care. It gives me great joy and I am often reminded of my mentors growing up and how proud they would be.

This article would not be complete without mentioning my mentor in education - Mary Ann Hamel-Hashimi. She was the program director and encouraged me, as a clinical instructor, to apply for a full-time faculty position. I was terrified of lecturing to a large class of 60 students. If she hadn’t have encouraged me to apply and assisted me after I was hired, I doubt that I would have stayed in education. She shared the values of service that I learned from my family and took me to my first Chicago Midwinter Meeting.

May her soul rest in peace as we lost her many years ago to cancer. Yesterday I ran across a folder that had her writing on it and had to pause for a moment. She was beloved by so many, students and faculty alike. I hope this article encourages you to reach out to a mentor, even if it is to just say thank you to someone who helped you along the way. I also hope you are encouraged to pay it forward by being a mentor to someone else. The rewards you reap from helping another along the way are beyond financial rewards.

Reaching out to a mentor

If you have not found role models and mentors, I encourage you to reach out to someone you admire. Invite them to coffee, lunch, or for a walk. Tell them your intention and how they can help you grow as a person and professional.

  • It doesn’t have to be someone in dental hygiene. I have enjoyed my membership in various women’s clubs, Rotary, chamber of commerce, and the Florida Writers Association, to name a few. The men and women I have met have made significant contributions to my growth as a professional, businesswoman, and human being.
  • Be specific with your mentors.
  • Always follow up with a personal thank you. Maybe it is a hand-written note or a bouquet of flowers or basket of vegetables from your garden.

I have never been disappointed with my interaction with mentors. RDH

Linda Meeuwenberg, RDH, MA, MA is well known as a mentor from her three decades in education at Ferris State University in Michigan. As Founder and CEO of Professional Development Association, Inc., she provides continuing education and key note addresses. She has coached hundreds of dental hygienists as they determine an enhanced path in their career and is a frequent contributor to RDH Magazine, Access, and a contributing author in three collaborative books. Email her at [email protected] or visit