Hygienists in uniform.
Many may think of their career as simply an occupation, I would call my career a way of life, for I am a part of something greater than myself. I am an Airman first, but also a dental hygienist, a technical expert at my craft. When the two merge every day, I provide world-class oral health care to America's heroes who, just like me, volunteered to serve the country they so dearly love. My Air Force career began in 1995, but my journey as an active duty dental hygienist did not start for another 10 years.
In 2004, the Air Force instituted the Dental Hygiene Training Scholarship Program allowing Air Force dental assistants to attend an accredited dental hygiene school. These Airmen receive full pay and benefits while attending school full-time. Once they have completed dental hygiene school and successfully passed the national board, then they are required to fulfill a three-year service commitment upon graduating.
The two institutions the Air Force utilizes to train future hygienists are Trident Technical College in South Carolina and St. Petersburg College in Florida. After successful program completion and licensing, newly registered dental hygienists reenter the operational Air Force. They are assigned and occasionally deployed all over the globe to deliver state-of-the-art oral care. With a large number of registered dental hygienists leaving their mark, the Air Force provides a consistent level of quality care identical to civilian care stateside. Since obtaining my license, I have had the opportunity to live, work and play at locations such as Charleston, South Carolina; Misawa Air Base Japan and Cheyenne, Wyoming. My very first assignment as a registered dental hygienist was Misawa Air Base, Japan.
"Konnichi Wa" is how one says hello in Japanese. I learned this after graduating and moving to Misawa Air Base, Japan, where I had my very first assignment as a registered dental hygienist. At Misawa, I led and managed the Preventive Dentistry Department. During my three and half years there, I trained and supervised other Air Force staff. The 35th Dental Squadron at Misawa Air Base provides dental care to 14 thousand active duty military, family members, retirees and Department of Defense civilians. It was through that patient population I achieved ultimate job satisfaction. In my dental chair, on any given day, there was an Airman preparing for deployment. My job was to guarantee his/her dental readiness so he or she could carry out the mission without distraction or limitations. The very next day, I could provide dental care for that Airman's spouse, who is now charged with holding down the fort as he or she waits for the Airman's safe return.
One day, I had the privilege of providing dental care for a retired Army patient. He had served in WWII in the Pacific. Here I was serving a man who had served our country when it needed him most. It was then I felt the most pressure to be the very best hygienist I could be: I owed that to him. That day, I got to know a member of the "greatest generation," and I did it while also serving my country as a registered dental hygienist.
I embrace my career, for I am part of two elite professional organizations at once, the United States Air Force and the American Dental Hygienists' Association. I am part of two distinct subcultures, both grounded by core values and lauded for high standards. The Air Force Dental Service's mission is to achieve oral health to ensure readiness, achieve best value and achieve excellence in all we do. I am a proud registered dental hygienist, thankful for her opportunities. General George S. Patton was once quoted as saying, "If I do my full duty, the rest will take care of itself." That is how I feel about my profession and my field. If I continue to sharpen my skills and never become complacent, I will always provide world-class oral health care to others who "take care of the rest."
If anyone is interested in learning more about me or my career, please contact email@example.com.
By MSgt Sarah Drinkard, USAF, RDH
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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