Gift of struggle

April 21, 2005
Our daily struggles with doing the right thing rely on our desire to develop the inner professional.

by Kristine Hodsdon, RDH

Being dropped at the mall by my parents to go shopping with a friend was the absolute best when I was a pre-teen. I had the freedom to walk into any store and buy whatever I had enough money to purchase. Of course I wanted more than I could afford, yet I was developing my decision-making ability, or so my mother would tell me.

On one unforgettable Saturday afternoon, I was shopping with my best friend, Valerie when, all of a sudden, a security guard walked up behind us and asked us to follow him to the store's office.

"Girls," said the guard, "did you place a pair of earrings in your pocket without paying for them?" No way, I thought, although I must confess: I had considered stealing the earrings. But fear of my mother killing me if she found them during her weekly "cleaning" of my room quickly erased any such ideas. Then I saw Valerie's hand move slowly yet confidently as she removed "the earrings" from her jacket pocket. The guard turned to me and finished with, "OK, let me check your pockets too." Great, I was thinking, could this afternoon get any worse, guilt by association? Valerie began singing like a jaybird; I was free to go home with my parents. I still remember feeling that I never wanted to experience these emotions or be in that type of situation again.

My mother always told me to be careful of who you hang around with, for their bad behavior will surround you like a force field, honestly is the best policy, and stealing is wrong. Wow, three life lessons, lived, learned, and remembered -- all before I had a chance to eat ice cream at the food court.

Aren't values instilled in us when we are young? Don't we all carry in our minds a mother's, father's, grandparent's, or someone's words of wisdom, and the repetition of their right-from-wrong scripts? When do we actually begin to merge their values into our own attitudes, beliefs, choices, and behaviors? Our values are the fundamental core of who we are as people, as professionals. They direct our lives, and provide a standard of our own personal and professional growth.

Now what happens when you are in hygiene school, and you forget to study for the anatomy and physiology exam? Yet, you remember that when you take tests, you sit so close to each other that it would be easy to look over at a classmates test when you get stuck. No worries -- everyone does it, right?

Or if you are a working dental assistant who is also a hygiene student, your school and work schedule could be spiraling out of control. You begin to think how easy it would be to take the required impressions and trim the models, or take that full-mouth X-rays and develop them in your office. Do you?

Daily, as students and professionals, we are confronted with challenges that can rock our values. These values, or lack of them, influence our behavior and actions. Do you take action in directions that you know are not ethical or definitely smudge the lines, yet you just rationalize why you did it?

In school, you can struggle with the temptation of cheating, sharing answers, scamming a teacher, or having someone else complete a requirement. In practice, we can all struggle with whether or not to update a medical history completely, take a blood pressure, re-schedule a patient with an unmedicated heart murmur or active herpes virus, complete a full-mouth probe, and or provide an oral cancer screening.

No matter what stage we are at during our professional journey, there will be daily struggles. You need to decide what values and messages you will listen to and what decisions you will make. Some of the ethical decisions or "right thing to do" will be lonely, tricky, and unglamorous. You may fall outside conventional measures (i.e., fail an exam, re-do a requirement, or miss a lunch hour). Yet, you are the only one who can develop the inner professional ... the professional you choose to be ... the struggle between the value-driven or value-hindered hygienist.

Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, has gained her wings with 21 years in the industry, tackling everything from dental assisting, clinical hygiene and adjunct teaching to international speaking/writing, and success in sales. She is the Director of RDH eVillage, an online newsletter published by the PennWell Corporation. She currently speaks and consults on the future of dental hygiene, speaking skills, and the components of aesthetic hygiene. Kristine is a proud member of the NSA, ADHA, IFDH, IADR, and ACCD.