If you would’ve asked me five years ago where I would be today, I would’ve told you, working in a dental office as a clinical hygienist part-time and raising my family the rest of the time. Maybe I would have gotten a raise or two, earning my wage with my expertise, patient-centered care, and exquisite teamwork abilities. I was one of those statistical women who married fresh out of college, began having a family right away, and I spend the majority of my time with my family. My career had only been something I did to contribute to my addiction to spending money on my children. Recently I left the op. I found that all of those reasons I had stayed in clinical practice for so long, were actually the reasons I am becoming the educator I am today.
My expertise never waivers. I am a lifelong learner, and I will never be at the top of my game. Dentistry is evolving right alongside medicine and the world. I have never been one to only go to continuing education courses that are required of me, worry that I don’t have enough continuing education hours to renew my license, or say that something is too expensive to go to when it interests me. I have a true thirst for knowledge. Dentistry excites me and being in the know is where I want to be. I seek continuing education in my area. I have a bucket list of dental conferences I want to get to. I don’t have to go through my continuing education the month of renewal and see if I have enough hours, because I know that I more than likely have double the hours that are required of me. I have also found that there are grants and scholarship opportunities available to utilize for going to events that are out of your price range. It is worth it to just ask for help when you know that it doesn’t fit into your budget.There are people out there who also want to see you succeed and are willing to further your education for that success.
My co-workers are like-minded collaborators. My career field has been exclusively dentistry. I went to college to be a dental hygienist. I have only worked in dental offices and/or in a dental assisting/hygiene school the 12 plus years I have been out of college. Whichever setting I am working, I am surrounded by those who think like me and work like me. As dental professionals, we are patient-centered, we work well with our hands, and we know how to start conversations with anyone in our presence. When we are in college, we not only learn about teeth, but we also learn about professionalism and patient care. Even though my clinical colleagues are like me, I march to the beat of my own drum in the clinical setting. I find myself wanting more, and planning for more. I would find myself educating those around me, whether they wanted me to or not. I knew that I needed to follow this passion before I started over-stepping my bounds.
My education was waiting for me. Like most of us, I did not start my college career knowing exactly what I wanted to do and be in my professional life. I spent the better part of 3 years figuring out what type of career I would pursue. I had a supply of college credits banked up that were just sitting on transcripts. I knew that I would always finish off that degree I began so long ago. My dental hygiene degree was an associate’s degree with nearly enough credits to earn me the title of a bachelor’s degree. I am not a fan of leaving something un-done; I was constantly looking at degree completion programs online. My husband was not on board with this idea. He wanted to know what benefit this was going to be to my future. There were arguments over why I felt the need to spend more of our family’s money and time on classes and a degree that I really didn’t need in clinical dentistry. And don’t get me wrong, dental hygiene is a great career. Being that type A personality, dental hygienist who is always on a mission, I enrolled in a degree completion program without his blessing and just told him, this was what I was doing.
My patients are there for me. I have been blessed to have a wonderful following of patients throughout my career. I have had patients that have followed me from practice to practice so that they can continue to benefit from my care. I have had patients who move away, yet through the power of social media, have found me and make sure that I continue to know about their lives and family. I have patients who have become friends because they once knew me as their hygienist, and seek to continue to know me even if I am not providing their dental care. I have patients who have been my biggest cheerleaders while I completed my degree and taught dental hygiene part-time; they’ve even read every one of my published articles (even though they knew nothing about dentistry). They’ve expressed to me their distaste for my not providing their preventive care anymore, and yet they continue to be my biggest fans outside of my op.
My kids are better when I am better. My kids love telling their friends that their mommy teaches at a college. I think they are proud in their own little elementary school minds to know that my career has evolved and changed. I am setting an example for my kids to follow their hearts and work for their dreams. My kids have seen me sit at the kitchen table for hours working on papers, writing articles, taking exams, and stress eating. They have seen and suffered from the work and dedication that goes into more education and a more involved career. I want my kids to know that at any age we don’t have to stop learning, we don’t have to stop earning, and we can be whatever we want.
I was happy in the op. Making the decision to leave the op was one of the hardest career decisions I have had to make. Changing jobs is never easy. I think it is was the hardest for me because I was truly happy where I was presently working clinically, and I didn’t have an immediate reason to leave that position. I have never had to truly actively look for a position in my career. Most of my hygiene positions were easily obtained and offered to me on the spot with minimal interviewing. However, I had to work hard for my education position. I spent almost three years as an adjunct, waiting for a full-time position to open up, and even then, decide if it was my time to make the career switch. I was turned down multiple times on some out of the op opportunities that I fell upon. I wasn’t unhappy with the op; I just knew it was time for me to move on, I knew I still have more to dentistry to give.
I will continue to seek and share education. To each incoming group of students, I am the expert in my classroom. I have a chance to ignite a passion for this career field in them. My co-workers are truly like-minded, and with collaboration, I have the chance at really becoming a superior educator. I am going to be a face in my community constantly and my former patients will know that they are a part of my story. My legacy to my children will drive me for continued success. I am not done yet. I will never settle and I will never waiver. But I did choose to leave the op. I followed the educator that has always been inside me. I can only hope that I do it justice and continue to better myself and those around me.