By Ann-Marie C. DePalma
Linda Meeuwenberg was a 17-year-old high school student when she took a job at a general dental practice in her hometown of Fruitport, Mich. She was hired to type, file, answer the phone, and pay the bills. However, she also assisted chairside, worked the front desk, developed X-rays, and accompanied her employers — a husband and wife dental team — to dental meetings. They were so impressed by her natural abilities that they urged her to switch her college major. Linda needed little convincing. Already gripped by a passion for dentistry, she enrolled in Ferris State University's new dental hygiene program and graduated from its second-ever class.
From this beginning sprung a multi-faceted career as a hygienist, educator, consultant, and author. After nine years of private practice, Linda began teaching at her alma mater. First, she was a part-time clinical supervisor and then became a full-time member of the faculty. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education, as well as two master's degrees. Linda was promoted to the highest rank of full professor at FSU following her second master's degree and was the second woman to receive this honor in the College of Allied Health Sciences.
Linda currently instructs second-year students in clinical practice and theory and teaches pre-dental hygiene students. She serves as SADHA advisory for Ferris State and is the hygiene continuing education coordinator, along with teaching several continuing education seminars held annually at the university. FSU has applauded her efforts on the school's behalf by naming her one of five finalists for the Distinguished Teacher of the Year; inducting her into the Sigma Phi Alpha National Dental Hygiene Honor Society for her contributions to dental hygiene education, and awarding her with its Silver Award for Distinguished Alumni.
After 26 years as a clinical instructor, Linda notes that students today are highly motivated; however, they are also more stressed. More students have to work while going to college and many more commute rather than live on campus. Many of her students struggle to balance family obligations as well as those of work and school. Amazingly, these students are often her best students.
"They know how to set priorities and have great self-discipline," she says. "Students today are passionately interested in the issues that affect hygiene practice. I introduce issues like preceptorship in my freshman class. They are appalled that their career choices are being threatened, especially when so many are making sacrifices to earn their degree." By instructing her students in this way, Linda offers her students an opportunity to become professionally involved and active in ADHA.
The role of educator naturally transitioned into that of author. Linda has published articles in virtually every dental hygiene journal. A book on personal empowerment is currently in the works. She has even published a short story.
Teaching, plus intensive one-on-one interface with her patients, has helped the once-shy Linda to blossom into a first-rate public speaker. After earning her master's degree in communication, she combined her arsenal of talents and formed Professional Development Association Inc. in 1988. The company manages a team of independent consultants and offers speaking and consulting services to a wide variety of groups. Her company specializes in topics highly relevant in the modern workforce, including improved human performance and positive attitudes as self-empowerment. She offers courses to local businesses and dental offices, and speaks frequently at professional meetings throughout the country.
Not only has she lectured around the country, but also in various parts of the world. In fact, she is working on a study abroad program to take to students in New Zealand. Linda spent a week there last September speaking at their Biennial Symposium and meeting members of the dental hygiene association. Linda will also participate in the second International Women's Leadership Conference sponsored by the American Dental Education Association to be hosted in Sweden this summer. She even co-authored a leadership presentation that was given at the first Leadership Conference in France. Linda still practices in a clinical setting, working as the consulting hygienist for a migrant health clinic in the summers. "I love my profession and can't sing its praises enough," she says. "I have the best of all worlds: private practice, working with students and speaking to seasoned professionals." Hygiene has embraced a shy teenager from Fruitport, and took her down a dynamic path, one she travels with great gusto today!
I met Linda several months ago at an Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries (ADIA) meeting. I had known that she presented programs, but had never heard her speak. After meeting her, however, Linda's enthusiasm and commitment as a motivational speaker is readily apparent.
In addition, while I was recently attending another dental meeting, I mentioned to a hygienist that I would be interviewing Linda for this column. She said, "Oh, you have to include not only her professional accomplishments, but her passion for Harley Davidson and her daughter as well."
Linda definitely lives her life with passion and gusto!Linda Meeuwenberg's upcoming presentations include:
• Muskegon Community College, Muskegon, Mich, April 25.
• Periodontal Study Club, Troy, Mich., May 7.
• Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, Orlando, Fla., June 21.
• Michigan Dental Seminars, Frakenmuth, Mich., Aug. 7.
• Ferris State University, Annual Mackinac Island Weekend, Mackinac Island, Mich., Sept. 26.
• Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich., Oct. 17-18.
Linda can be contacted at Meewen@centurytel. net.
Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a practicing hygienist in a periodontal-implant practice.She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, is active in the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association, and is a Fellow of the Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries and Practice Management.Ann-Marie has written articles and presents programs on dental implants, TMD, and developmental delays and can be reached at [email protected].