Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

Living My Dental Hygiene Dream

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. And there is no feeling in the world that compares to being recognized by one’s peers. I recently had that on-top-of-the-world experience when I was awarded the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) Award for Excellence in Dental Hygiene sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products. The event took place during the ADHA Annual Session in Las Vegas in June. It was a special moment to share and enjoy with family, friends, and colleagues. ADHA President Denise Bowers, RDH, PhD, bestowed the award alongside Chris Charles, RDH, BSDH, director of scientific and professional affairs at Johnson & Johnson. I recalled the early days of my dental hygiene career and remembered the wonderful individuals who gave me a shot, even when I had little experience and few qualifications. Their mentoring and leadership were invaluable. They are the ones who deserved to be recognized.

I’d like to share with you a part of my acceptance speech. I hope my words serve as an inspiration to anyone who is trying to achieve more and reach for the stars. You can realize your dream.

Gratitude – It’s a simple, three-syllable word, yet it means so much. And while we often think of thanking others, sometimes we either forget or don’t have the opportunity to do so. This is a rare chance…to be able to show how blessed and thankful I am for the people in my life who made today possible. Some are in this room and others are not with us. However, no matter where they are they remain with me in heart and spirit.

First, my personal thanks: To Ellie Kelley-Miyashiro (aka Junior) for nominating me for this award: You are a pleasure to know and your smile brightens the darkest day. You truly are the daughter I never had!

To my parents & Mike’s parents, who always told me I could be anything I wanted to be in life. They taught me that no obstacle is too great if you truly want to achieve something. They were the Greatest Generation, and what fantastic role models they were since they overcame so much in their lives. (Mom….I am going to write that book about you soon. I promise!)

To Mike, my best friend, my partner in life, and my constant inspiration: You make me think, encourage me to rise, and help me shine. You’ve taught me the importance of being true to one’s word. And you are the wind beneath my wings.

On a professional level, I’ll start at the beginning with Dr. Nancy Reynolds Goorey. She accepted my application to the dental hygiene program at THE Ohio State University way back in the early 1970s. As one out of 86 students, I had no idea that there had been over 300 applicants. And since I came from a “non-dental” family, I had no clue that most of my classmates had relatives who were dentists or dental hygienists, and that dental hygiene was something they wanted to do their entire lives. In my case, I had just met some OSU dental hygiene students who told me what they were learning and it sounded interesting to me. So on that first day of class, I found myself wondering, “what am I doing here?”

Fast forward to the mid-1980s. As my clinical career progressed, I realized I wanted to do more. Enter Ada Beth Harris and Candy Ross. Ada Beth gave me my first foray out of the operatory, working at dental conventions for Johnson & Johnson. Ours was a strong, tight-knit group of dental hygienists and many of us are still close friends. Candy Ross ran the educational program at WaterPik, and she was looking for dental hygienists to present programs at dental and dental hygiene schools. Even though I was terrified to speak in front of a group of people, I went for it. That first program at UMDNJ (now the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine) was nerve-wracking. As I gathered my thoughts, tried to stop shaking, and worried that my slides were in order and they wouldn’t jam in the carousel, I found myself wondering, “what am I doing here?”

About 10 years after that first speaking engagement, I was “on the circuit” quite regularly and realized that I also had a talent for writing. (As an aside, when I was in the second grade Sister Mary Joseph told me I would be a writer someday. I never believed her. Just goes to show you should never doubt a nun!) I had a brief stint in writing and editing and then I met Lorene Kent, publisher of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Lorene wanted to expand her editorial team and thought I’d be a good fit. As I started working with Lorene, Kristen, Anna and all the incredible authors and editorial Board members at Dimensions, that old thought crept into my mind again: “what am I doing here?”

Today, I’m standing in front of an amazing group of colleagues whom I greatly admire. And yes, I’m thinking, “what am I doing here?” I’m still not sure I have the answer, but I recently got some insight from an unlikely source.

Not long ago I went to the Kaneohe Marine Base to shop at the commissary. For those of you who are unfamiliar with military procedure, when people drive on to a base, they are stopped by a sentry. The sentry’s job is to check credentials and make sure individuals are eligible to be on the base. The young man on duty gave me a sharp salute (because I have a Colonel sticker on my car from Mike’s service) smiled broadly and asked me how I was. I replied “fine” and I asked him how he was doing in return. This young 19 or 20-year-old kid looked me in the eye and immediately replied, “Ma’am, I’m living the dream.” Wow. As I drove away I realized that youngster was wise beyond his years. And he hinted at a possible answer to the question I had asked myself so many times….”what am I doing here?”

Well, I’m living my own dream. In living that dream, I hope to be an example to other dental hygienists who think they can’t achieve success or fulfillment in their careers. You can. Dream big, go big, be big. Each one of you has the ability to succeed. Each one of you has fans in your corner who will help you. In fact, keep this in mind whenever doubt creeps into your thoughts. It’s an acronym for the word “FEAR.” You can either: Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise. Live YOUR dream and rise! Thank you for all YOU do each and every day to improve the health of the public!!!

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. September 2014;12(9):8.


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