Let’s say you’ve been a dental hygienist for five or 10 years. And, while you love your work and your patients, you’re ready for a new challenge. But dental hygiene is dental hygiene – there’s nowhere to go other than clinical practice and more clinical practice. Right? Wrong! After working in a clinical setting for years, many hygienists have found routes to new – and often surprising – destinations, including public health and private industry. Here’s a look at two hygienists who’ve made the successful leap to new careers.
(The following professionals were featured in an article in the December 2011 edition of Dimensions in Dental Hygiene.)
A public health role
In the 1980s, Kathy Eklund, RDH, MHP, was practicing in Boston and treating several AIDS patients. The experience made her super-conscious of infection control and its role in patient care. She was also working at the time helping to develop infection-control policies for the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene. While living her dual-career life, she also found time to work with the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention, which put her in touch with infection–control experts from across the country. By then, she’d paved the way to a new career in infection control.
Now Eklund 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.
Public health/infection control is a natural route for career-changing hygienists, who must integrate infection control into every patient interaction, she says. “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.”
Leading in business
Tammi Byrd, now CEO and clinical director of Health Promotion Specialists, a company that maintains dental hygiene programs for South Carolina schools, says ongoing membership in dental organizations was the engine that propelled her into a career as an industry leader. For example, she is past president of both the South Carolina Dental Hygiene Association and the American Dental Hygiene Association.
“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,” she says. “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.”
Public health and private business are just two areas open to enterprising dental hygienists. Others have made successful transitions to academia, research and industry. What’s your next move?