Yvette Reibel, RDH, BA, BSDH, MSDH, a clinical assistant professor in the Division of Dental Hygiene at the University of Minnesota, shares indispensable tips on how to thrive in dental hygiene school and the profession.
The excitement of starting a dental hygiene program is indescribable. The first day of class is the beginning of your professional journey. For some the excitement is related to the passion of helping others, for others it may be the competitive salary, and others yet may be fulfilling a long-time dream. Regardless of your motivation, as students we were all given advice as we embarked on this journey of personal and professional growth. Some advice is essential for our success in a dental hygiene program while other words of wisdom are meant to support our well-being as individuals.
PASSION AND MOTIVATION
As a clinical professor in a dental hygiene program, I have some helpful suggestions for dental hygiene students. The first is to be mindful of the reasons you decided to enter this profession. Although the duration of your dental hygiene education won’t last as long as your time spent in practice, the road to graduation can be long and bumpy. The motivation behind “why” you chose this career will help you push through those moments of frustration and aggravation to succeed in your classes and master those clinical skills that have been giving you trouble. A simple quote or picture can serve as a reminder in a locker, notebook, or computer of your purpose on those challenging days.
At the end of the dental hygiene program, you will not be the same person as you when you began this journey. You will have learned more about oral health, effective communication strategies, and patient education than you ever imagined. You will become a competent clinician who is able to critically think, apply clinical skills, and implement an evidence-based approach to patient care. During this transformation, there will be growth and changes. Embrace change, expect it, and do not beat yourself up over mistakes. These mistakes guide your learning and transformation. Reflecting on my experience, I still remember some of the mistakes I made as a student. Through self-assessment, I have realized that while embarrassing at the time, those mistakes were some of the best lessons I learned while becoming the professional I am today. Understanding that changes will continue to happen even after graduation will support your becoming a lifelong learner.
TRUST THE PROCESS
My favorite saying is to “trust the process.” The courses, assignments, and clinical experiences have been tailored for you to help you become a great dental hygienist one day. As a student, I am not sure I believed this whole-heartedly until I became a licensed dental hygienist and educator. All of the case studies, papers, assignments, and clinical evaluations were designed to allow me to answer patient questions and provide them with professional observations and evidence-based recommendations. These tasks were not just hoops to jump through, but a larger preparation that I did not understand at the time. During these times, the guidance and support I received from faculty members allowed me to develop my tool kit that I use daily with my patients.
As a student, the best thing you can do to be successful is to be prepared. Be prepared for courses by reading assigned articles, prepare for clinic by reviewing clinical evaluations, and so on. This preparation will reduce the stress that comes with procrastination. Patient care can bring its own challenges and being prepared will limit the amount of unease that you will experience. Or even in class, by being prepared, pop quizzes and last-minute papers will not induce excessive stress. This skill will translate to professional practice as you prepare for patient care, clinical responsibilities within a practice, and administrative roles.
This journey of starting and graduating from a dental hygiene program is best traveled with a support system. This can look very different for all students; it may consist of family, friends, significant others, classmates, mentors, or pets. You will experience great successes to celebrate and setbacks that will require time to vent and process. A support system is essential for your well-being. You will have “your people” to bounce suggestions off of and to seek help on how to handle difficult situations. Creating a plan on how to blow off steam will be helpful, too. Whether it is a Netflix binge night or training to run a marathon, we all need coping mechanisms.
Regardless whether you are starting your dental hygiene journey or halfway down the path, you have selected a profession to be proud of. Remember this part will be over quicker than you think, and you will be welcomed into the dental hygiene profession. Study hard and push through.