Six Dental Hygienists You Want to Know
These prominent dental hygienists exemplify different facets of the profession—academia, industry, clinical practice, “mover and shaker,” public health, and research. Their stories are moving, and we hope you are inspired to create your own path in this dynamic career
Pamela Overman, EdD, RDH,
is associate dean for Academic Affairs at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry in Kansas City, Mo, where she is dedicated to helping manage the training of future oral health professionals. In 2001, Overman earned a doctoral degree in education policy and leadership at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Active in the American Dental Education Association, she has served as chair of the organization’s Council of National Dental Hygiene Directors, Council of Allied Dental Program Directors, and Section on Academic Affairs. Overman is also a member of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene’s Editorial Advisory Board.
Dimensions: How did you get started in academia?
Overman: I was a clinical practitioner in Joplin, Mo, working in three offices. Out of the blue, I received a phone call from the dean of technology at Missouri Southern State College (MSSC). He was looking for dental hygienists with baccalaureate degrees to teach in a new dental hygiene program opening at MSSC. This is one of the reasons I encourage all dental hygienists with associate degrees to enter degree completion programs. Furthering your education ensures that you will have plenty of options over the span of your career. I accepted the position and helped start the dental hygiene program from scratch. I fell in love with the students, teaching, and everything about academia.
Dimensions: What do you love about your job?
Overman: I love “light bulb moments!” Watching students gain a new understanding or master a new skill is amazing. It is these moments that make my day. My job has changed a lot from when I first entered academia. As associate dean, I spend most days involved in administrative duties, but I still maintain teaching responsibilities. Teaching keeps me grounded and focused on our main goal as a school—to teach future oral health care professionals.
I also love the variety of my academic position. Yesterday I served as a standardized patient who was experiencing a medical emergency during a pilot OSCE (objectively structured clinical examination). OSCEs measure students’ abilities to perform clinical tasks. We then use the results to improve the curriculum, as well as ensure that each student has the knowledge and skills he or she needs before graduating. Today, I am working on a post-tenure review. With the expectation that faculty will be involved in teaching, research, and service, no day is ever the same.
Lillian J. Caperila, RDH, MEd, has more than 30 years’ experience in dental hygiene, where she has explored several roles, including certified dental assistant, clinical dental hygienist, periodontal co-therapist, and educator. She is currently manager and international presenter of professional continuing education for Premier Dental Products Co in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Caperila is active in organized dental hygiene, serving at both local and state levels of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). She is a past president of the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists’ Association. In 2009, Caperila was inducted into her alma mater’s Hall of Fame at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pa, and in 2010, she received the ADHA Irene Newman Award for Professional Achievement. She is also a member of Dimensions‘ Corporate Council.
Dimensions: What skills are necessary to move from clinical practice into working in industry?
Caperila: I recommend that dental hygienists seek a broad educational background that includes research practices, business, technology, and communication, in addition to the core experience of clinical dental hygiene. If newly-licensed dental hygienists continue their formal education immediately after graduation, I suggest they balance their coursework with a part-time clinical position to build confidence in their patient treatment skills. Active membership in professional organizations, such as ADHA and the National Dental Hygienists’ Association, is key to the success of all dental hygienists because they ensure our voice is heard at the regulatory table while offering opportunities for professional growth. No matter what direction you choose, your core dental hygiene education will remain a valuable asset in any role in the dental industry.
Dimensions: What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by new dental hygiene graduates?
Caperila: As we’ve witnessed, the economy is creating tremendous obstacles for new graduates to find gainful employment and the compensation that usually accompanies a full-time position in health care. Additionally, the role of dental hygienists in the bigger picture of health care is changing quickly, which has forced us to rethink our preparation and skills.
I hope our new graduates will keep their prospects open for change and welcome all opportunities to become autonomous in leading prevention and health promotion. This will be our greatest legacy in oral health care. I believe the image of the “traditional” dental hygienist is quickly disappearing and will be replaced with a talented group of innovators who will lead us in the delivery of successful and cost-effective health care in diversified settings.
Lucinda B. McKechnie, RDH, BS, has been practicing clinical dental hygiene for more than 40 years. In addition to clinical practice, McKechnie has been active in academia, altruism, and continuing education. She has presented programs in periodontal therapy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia, as well as professional meetings and private practice settings. McKechnie has lectured at the Institute for Advanced Dental Studies in Swampscott, Mass, and served as a clinical instructor and lecturer at the University of Vermont School of Dental Hygiene in Burlington. She has visited Vietnam three times over the past 3 years to donate her time and clinical skills with Operation Smile, an international children’s medical charity that provides cleft lip and palate surgeries to those without access to treatment.
Dimensions: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments in clinical practice?
McKechnie: Aside from successful patient treatment resolution, I am proud of my involvement in continuing education. I stay up-to-date on current literature, and I attend continuing education symposiums. This love of learning has improved my ability to communicate with patients and explain specific therapeutic interventions. I once had a patient comment: “You care more about my teeth and health than I do!” I think patients trust the treatment plans I design for them, including referral for collaborative care. There is also something to be said for “practice makes perfect.” I have been practicing a long time!
Dimensions: What do you think has changed the most abo>ut clinical dental hygiene since you began practicing?
McKechnie: I had the good fortune of attending an expanded function course in periodontal therapy within a few years of graduating from dental hygiene school. While I consider my traditional dental hygiene education to be comprehensive, the post-graduate experience changed the way I practice. I went from what I refer to as a “conveyor-belt dental hygienist,” with little variation in approach, to a provider of individualized care, which is reflective of current clinical dental hygiene practice.
Dimensions: What advice would you give to new graduates who want to achieve a long-lasting career in dental hygiene practice?
McKechnie: First and foremost, further your education! Today’s treatment challenges require discerning, risk-based patient assessment and management. Second, diversify your experience. The time I spent as a faculty member, publisher, continuing education lecturer, corporate advisory board member, and volunteer has sustained my enthusiasm for dental hygiene for four decades.
“MOVER AND SHAKER”
Tammi O. Byrd, RDH, is CEO and clinical director of Health Promotion Specialists, a school-based dental hygiene program serving schools in South Carolina since 2000. She is responsible for the administration and management of the company’s budget and operations, as well as its clinical functions. Byrd actively participates in the monitoring and development of government statutes, regulations, and policies as they relate to small business, dentistry, and the practice of dental hygiene. She is a past president of the South Carolina Dental Hygiene Association and ADHA. Byrd has received numerous awards, including the ADHA Distinguished Service Award in 2000 and the Johnson and Johnson/ADHA Excellence in Dental Hygiene Award in 2007.
Dimensions: What are the biggest obstacles to improving the oral health of all Americans?
Byrd: The biggest challenges are too few oral health care providers, the overtreatment of patients by some oral health care providers, and lack of necessary funding. Many of the financial issues could be resolved if the amount of overtreatment was reduced and the functions of dental hygienists were expanded to correlate with our education level. Dental hygienists are underutilized team members.
Dimensions: How are you making a difference in the oral health of children in South Carolina?
Byrd: My company, Health Promotion Specialists, has spent the past 12 years educating parents and children about the importance of oral health and the need for prevention, in addition to providing preventive services. We partner with South Carolina school districts to provide preventive health education and oral health services; refer children to local physicians, dentists, speech therapists, etc, for any additionally needed services; and participate in community activities to promote health. Fortunately, we are seeing change. The next generation of parents will be more conscientious about their children’s oral health, as well as their own.
Dimensions: Why is membership and involvement in organized dental hygiene important?
Byrd: Membership in professional organizations is vital to lifelong learning and a lifelong love of the profession. I would not be where I am today if I had not remained involved in organized dental hygiene. I see many dental hygienists who have jobs, not careers, and they burn out. I chose to become a professional, and with that comes the responsibility of staying on the cutting edge of the latest evidence-based practice. Knowledge brings strength that helps you overcome adversity, and persevere.
Kathy J. Eklund, RDH, MHP, is director of infection control and occupational health, and research subject and patient safety advocate at the Forsyth Institute in Boston. She is also an adjunct associate professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene. Eklund is a past chair of the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) and served as secretary of the OSAP Foundation. She has provided regional HIV education and training to dental and health care providers through a grant from the New England AIDS Education and Training Center for the past 17 years. Eklund is one of the authors of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines for Infection Control In Dental Health-Care Settings—2003, and a member of Dimensions‘ Editorial Advisory Board.
Dimensions: How did infection control become your field of specialty?
Eklund: In 1984, I took over the infection control policies and procedures for the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene. I was also practicing parttime in the South End of Boston where I was treating a number of patients with AIDS, just as we were beginning to understand the gravity of HIV/AIDS and their effect on patient care. These two experiences sparked my interest and involvement in infection control. I also became involved early on with OSAP, which helped me connect with many infection control experts from across the country.
Dimensions: What are the key issues relating to infection control in the dental setting?
Eklund: Clinicians need to understand infection control not in fragmented steps, but as a program of prevention, control, and safety. They are ethically and legally responsible for providing infection prevention and control services through their clinical procedures and what surrounds those clinical procedures. Infection control must be approached as a program that requires policies and procedures designed to prevent health care-associated infections among patients, and injuries and illnesses among personnel. The program includes written, site-specific policies and procedures that are compliant with current CDC recommendations, as well as federal, state, and sometimes local regulations. The policies and procedures must be implemented and monitored or evaluated for compliance, efficiency, and effectiveness. This requires knowledgeable personnel with the skills to develop, implement, and monitor the program. Time and priority setting are always factors that affect the implementation and management of infection control programs.
Adele Eberhart, RDH, MS, is head of site management in the United States for San Francisco-based Genentech, a biotechnology company that uses human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture, and commercialize medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. She oversees all American region management of trials for first entry and early development Phase I through proof of concept, as well as all oncology trials Phase I through Phase III under investigational new drug applications with the US Food and Drug Administration.
Dimensions: How did you move into other areas of research beyond dentistry and dental hygiene?
Eberhart: When I first started after graduating from the University of California, San Francisco, one of my primary interests was salivary research and the iatrogenic effect of drugs. My early practice settings were hospital-based—rounding with medical school care teams and then managing high-risk patients to ensure they received appropriate dental care. I was very interested in the introduction of new medicines and preemptively examining the oral effects.
When a Phase III trial was beginning for a new class of drugs, I would add an additional study to monitor and manage salivary and oral effects. My work at UMKC’s adult care center, children’s hospital, and mental health center lead to further collaborations. Teaching dental hygiene, pharmacy, nursing, and graduate students (and later medical residents and fellows) in research design, statistics, and research ethics gave me the basics I needed to evaluate trial design across a broad range of medical disciplines.
After acquiring a solid knowledge basis, you can’t be afraid to delve into new areas of discovery with appropriate collaborators and mentors. Serving on an institutional review board and research funding committees expanded my interaction in medicine and pediatrics, allowing me to help researchers design and conduct trials.
Dimensions: What advice would you give dental hygienists who are interested in research as a career path?
Eberhart: Connect with a graduate dental hygiene program or dental/medical research center. Begin in data or trial coordination depending on your background, certifications, and licensure. Initially, volunteer in a clinical research center if need be. Attend meetings of your local Association of Clinical Research Professionals, and any relevant workshops or courses offered by universities and extension programs. Find a mentor. I have crossed paths with a number of dental hygienists who are very successful in new product or medical clinical development.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. December 2011; 9(12): 26, 28, 37-38.