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Letters from hygienists

May 1, 1999
Philadelphia is in the rear-view mirror as we set out to visit some hygienists in that chunk of urban sprawl called the Northeast. The characterization, in my mind, is only fair, tit for tat, as they say. My brother-in-law, a Wall Street lawyer, tends to think anything west of the Hudson River is "out there." He`ll call and offer his sympathy for my neighbors in Iowa, victims of a tornado or some other natural calamity. Iowa is so far away from Tulsa that I can`t even guess at the mileage. But i

Part 2 - Going from `out there` to across the Hudson

Mark Hartley, Editor

Philadelphia is in the rear-view mirror as we set out to visit some hygienists in that chunk of urban sprawl called the Northeast. The characterization, in my mind, is only fair, tit for tat, as they say. My brother-in-law, a Wall Street lawyer, tends to think anything west of the Hudson River is "out there." He`ll call and offer his sympathy for my neighbors in Iowa, victims of a tornado or some other natural calamity. Iowa is so far away from Tulsa that I can`t even guess at the mileage. But it`d have to be like him shuffling off to Buffalo from "The City." His sister, who was reared in that great urban sprawl before she vanished "out there" to marry me, once answered a geography question in Trivial Pursuit by identifying the state, "East Dakota." My assumption is that, because the border for East Dakota is only six miles northwest of Philadelphia, it was the most logical answer to give to a table surrounded by game players from the heartland. The heartland, as best as I can figure out Northeasterners, stretches from Spring Mill Road - Villanova University is on the east side of the road - to Soto Street in Los Angeles.

We`re not "out there" anymore, heading up I-295 toward Trenton. But we`re not ready to cross the Hudson yet. The first two stops are in New Jersey. Bedminster and Stirling are on the road to New York (the state, not the city) and New England. We will make some more stops in New Jersey, as well as in New York City, on the southward leg of this journey.

Karen Burnett, who practices in Stirling, caught my attention by writing, "Flying lessons helped me to complete my first solo flight in a single-engine airplane on a cold Super Bowl Sunday several years ago." If it was the 49ers-Chargers yawner in 1994, it was probably pretty crowded airspace. If she was soaring among the clouds during the Giants-Bills thriller in 1990, then there wouldn`t have been anything except satellites over the skies of Jersey. Besides flying, Burnett also rides horses and volunteers at the United States Equestrian Team, the pastime reflected in the photo with this article.

She has bachelor`s and master`s degrees in psychology, which she says helps in her busy schedule as a hygienist (51/2 to six days a week in three general practices). "Having been a hygienist for over five years with a background in psychology, I enjoy meeting people, building rapport, and providing the education to motivate good oral hygiene habits."

Five miles away from Stirling, another reader wrote to inform us about the "dream job" at Bedminster Family Dental. A 10-year dental veteran, Malissa Donovan wrote to say that she "had always joked" with a hygienist friend "about finding our dream jobs." She "stopped looking" 21 months ago when she went to practice in the office of Dr. Mike Mavrostomos.

"One of the most important things for me is to keep current on all dental hygiene topics. Dr. Mike pays for and encourages me to attend as many classes as I want," she writes. "His door is always open, and he`s very interested in any improvements to the office that I make."

We cross into New York at Port Jervis, enjoying the scenery that defies the stereotypes of the Northeast, and follow the Delaware River south of the Catskills into Binghamton. Johnson City and Endwell are on the west side of Broome County. In these Binghamton suburbs along the Susquehanna, we`re introduced to two mothers who are comfortable with their post-childbirth career choices. After graduating from Broome Community College in 1992, Tracey Moore divided her time between an orthodontic practice and a general practice. The birth of her two children, Austin and Alyssa, prompted her to scale back on her hours. She struggled for months over the tough choice before finally choosing the office of Dr. Jerome Farrell.

"I chose Dr. Farrell`s office because I could use all of my skills. I can practice regular prophy appointments, periodontal appointments, and all orthodontic records and adjustments," Moore writes.

Debra Simmons, a 1978 graduate from Broome Community College, resumed work last fall after maternity leave. In addition to the infant, though, she has two sons, ages six and 14, and two stepchildren, ages seven and 12. She works part-time in two practices - a periodontist and general dentist.

"One of the things I love most about my profession is the flexible scheduling. I`m not only able to work part-time, but I can even choose the hours in the day that I would like to work," Simmons said.

Moore`s other comment about life in Broome County, 70 miles south of Syracuse, was, "In the few summer months that we have, we enjoy boating on Cayuga Lake, water skiing, and camping." Cayuga is the largest of the "finger" lakes stretching north to south in the state.

Our other stop in the "out there" part of New York is in Troy, and, yes, this is where we cross the Hudson. Karen Motzer-Baldwin works full time and attends school at night. Her goal is to obtain a bachelor`s degree in education.

"My goal is to teach dental hygiene," Motzer-Baldwin writes. "When I was in college, my teachers were wonderful role models. They helped me in so many ways; that is why I want to teach hygiene students."

From Troy, we climb into the Green Mountains and spend hours eating a little too much cheese and candy in Vermont`s country stores. We exchange the Green Mountains for the White Mountains at the Connecticut River, and Hanover is just on the other side of the New Hampshire-Vermont border. Karen Jacobi`s letter to RDH was written on both sides of an index card. A 1968 graduate of Wesleyan University, Jacobi`s few words somehow speak volumes about life in rural Hanover:

"I am a nationally registered EMT and a firefighter and am on a search-and-rescue team. I practice three days a week for two dentists and am an on-call firefighter/EMT the rest of the time. My husband teaches at Dartmouth College, and we have two daughters, ages 21 and 17. My oldest daughter told me recently that I have taught her that there is nothing she can`t do. I also just won first place in my division of power-lifting."

In contrast, Goffstown lies in the more populous, southern part of New Hampshire - essentially a bedroom community for Manchester commuters. Pat Schubert, who obtained her license in 1979, lives there with her husband and nine-year-old son, Justin. She paints and gardens in the spare time she has while working toward her master`s degree. Schubert also is active in her church and Webelos Scouts.

The reason we stop in Goffstown is because of Schubert`s description of the three dental offices where she practices. She`s a perfect example of how many hygienists relish diversity in dental styles. "I have been with one office for 10 years now," she writes. "This is a small-town practice, and I know most of my patients as I grew up with them or their children. The dentist is a quiet man, and the office is low stress. I enjoy this environment.

"The second office I work at is very fast paced. The environment is production based. The dentist does incredible work. I have been with this office for almost five years.

"The third office I am associated with is in the midst of change. The dentist I started out with back in 1979 recently retired. I have worked on and off in this office for almost 20 years. The new dentist is young and upbeat. Her style of dentistry is refreshing. Each office I work with is unique, and I look forward to being at each."

We then cut across Massachusetts to enter Connecticut. Our destination is Monroe, a small town due west of New Haven and due north of Bridgeport. We`d like to determine if the residents of Monroe are sad or happy. The town is the source of one of the nicest letters we`ve received about a dentist. The writer is Gail Cummings, and she reflects early in the letter, "My employer has been my mentor and friend for the last decade."

So the photograph of Dr. Saul Sloan is the first photograph of a dentist to appear on our journey. The purpose of this meandering trip around the countryside is to get better acquainted with hygienists from across the country. Dentists, though, have a very obvious, profound effect on the lives of hygienists such as Cummings.

A graduate of Fones School of Dental Hygiene, Cummings apparently applied soon afterwards at Dr. Sloan`s office. "He took a chance with a new graduate. He has been tremendous throughout the years, showing not only great patience but guidance ... not only can dentists and hygienists get along, they can form lasting friendships."

When Cummings wrote the letter, she sorrowfully announced that she was leaving Dr. Sloan`s practice. She referred to "family commitments" and an "ordeal dealing with family illness." Throughout the situation, she said that Dr. Sloan was "supportive, understanding, and truly concerned about my well-being."

So, naturally, we hope that the citizens of Monroe are not too sad. As you can tell from the photograph, the positive energy that existed between the two must have been infectious with patients. We hope everything is all right with both of them.

The memories of Dr. Sloan`s photograph are still with us as we enter New York City, crossing the East River on the Whitestone Bridge. The reason we stop at Farmingdale on Long Island is a photograph of a senior dental student. Specifically, he is the fiancé of Veronica Hamczyk, who is in her third year of dental hygiene practice. She was responding to a RDH query for cover models when she wrote, "I include a photograph of me and my fiancé. I thought possibly that, if you were going to do any articles on dental couples, we could possibly be candidates for cover models."

If a writer were to step forward on such a topic, we would be inclined to agree. We wish them the best in both marriage and career. Perhaps Hamczyk would be inspired by our next stop, back across the Hudson River into the New Jersey suburbs. In Middletown, we visit Marge Springer, who has been working steadily since graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1963.

"I still enjoy the practice of dental hygiene and look forward to each day," Springer says. "I have been married for 35 years to a dentist. We have two grown sons and one granddaughter. Life is great!"

The Jersey shore is my favorite part of the state. We pause in Brick in Ocean County to meet Lisa DeSimone. She is married, has two young children, and has worked in a geriatric dental practice for a dozen years. If you`re looking for regrets, you won`t hear any from DeSimone.

"I love the profession I have chosen and would never even think of doing anything else," DeSimone writes. "Becoming a dental hygienist has been a dream of mine since childhood. I am proud to say that I have achieved my goal and am very happy in my work. I have encouraged this profession to many students seeking career guidance."

At the southern end of New Jersey is Cape May - a peninsula 15 miles or so long separating the Atlantic from Delaware Bay. Lisa Fitzpatrick lives and works near the center of the cape. She describes her neighborhood, the Cape May Court House area, as a "five-mile long and wide island with one of the greatest beaches around; we`re a laid-back beach resort." She lives on this paradise with her husband, her three-year-old son Sam, and an Italian Greyhound named Quigley.

Fitzpatrick worked as a dental assistant for five years before becoming a licensed hygienist six years ago. She noted that, at times, she had been uncertain about her career. But that all changed when she went to work for her current employer, Dr. Eric Thomas.

"There was a time when I thought of leaving hygiene only because I couldn`t find that right place for me. I finally found it with Dr. Thomas and staff. Hygiene couldn`t be any better."

We leave New Jersey on the back roads, passing through the towns of Millville, Bridgeton, and Salem, crossing into Delaware on Interstate 295. In Wilmington, we are introduced to Rosemary Rossi Smith, who holds a nice pot of what appears to be white tulips in her lap. She doesn`t list gardening as one of her pastimes, instead saying she juggles the "other demands of home, family, community activities, and physical fitness" while practicing two days a week. A 14-year veteran, Smith notes, "I worked full time up until the birth of my two children, but now find that part-time hygiene is a perfect way to balance all the hats I wear to fulfill myself."

The end of the day finds us just on the other side of Baltimore. The 90-minute dash down Interstate 95 ends in Linthicum Heights. The hygiene department of Dr. John Gigliotti posed for a photograph in a limo, and we thought it would be nice to say hello to the fellow travelers, especially since they hit the road in style. Lynn Minarick wrote the letter and said of her colleagues: "Laurel Daughtery is on the left. She and her husband were recently blessed with an adopted son. Equally blessed is Diane Berkebile, the new mother of baby number two. Diane is pictured on the right. We not only have a lot of fun at the office, but we do many things outside the office as well."

Minarick, of course, is in the center of the photograph, which she said was pulled off the welcome wall in the reception area. She has two children herself and remains involved as a Sunday School teacher and in the local school`s PTA. Minarick is the daughter of an orthodontist, and she`s not shy about passing the legacy of dentistry along to others.

"I`m proud to say that because of my genuine love of hygiene, several of my patients have decided to pursue the career also. I take a very personal approach to treating my patients. I believe in building a lasting relationship with the foundation being trust. I love my patients! Few can escape without giving me a big hug."

Maryland is a good stopping point. We`ll continue the journey by going into the Old South in next month`s issue, and the itinerary suggests we`ll go as far as Florida and then back west to Louisiana.

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Burnett: Would rather go flying than watch the Super Bowl

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Moore (at right in photo on right) and Simmons (above): Easy maternal choices in Broome County

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Motzer-Baldwin: Inspired by teachers

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Jacobi: Can say a lot on an index card

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Schubert: A different tempo every day

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Cummings: Are they sad in Monroe?

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Hamczyk: To wed a dentist

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Springer: Happiness is 35 years with a dentist

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Fitzpatrick: Paradise on the Cape

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DeSimone: No regrets

`I still enjoy the practice of dental hygiene and look forward to each day. I have been married for 35 years to a dentist. We have two grown sons and one granddaughter. Life is great!`

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Minarick (center): Hugs for travelers and patients alike

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Smith: A perfect balance