Reflecting on my life since graduating from hygiene school in 1990, it is easy to see how perfect this profession was for me and why I’m Hygienist Proud. Choosing a career path is not easy for everyone, but from the moment I walked into a room full of dental chairs, I immediately felt inspired to pursue being a hygienist.
I attended Hostos College in the Bronx, not knowing what career I was interested in. During my first semester, I walked into the Allied building where they provided an assortment of programs like nursing and radiology, and I was immediately drawn to a closed wooden door labeled “Dental Hygiene Department.” At that time my knowledge of dental care was limited, but as I walked into that on-campus clinic, I felt a spark of excitement light up in me.
I quickly made an appointment with the Hygiene Director to inquire about the clinic, and as I learned more, what started as a spark of excitement soon turned into a full-blown flame. At this meeting, I was disappointed to learn that I had not taken all the required courses, since I was in my first semester. Instead, I provided her with my high school transcripts, and hoped for the best. She took a chance and accepted me without the prerequisites that were required, and I am so grateful that she did. By accepting me, the program also changed the status quo. While the dental hygiene field is dominated by females, the number of male hygienists continues to rise – more and more each year. When I started the program, it was really out of the ordinary.
After completion, I was able to immediately start working at Lincoln Hospital, a place I had worked previously. After practicing with several general practices, I ended in a dental group practice in Florida working at a practice that presented me with the best opportunity of my career – being able to mentor and develop the skills of colleagues with the goal of together providing the best standard of patient care. If there is one thing I would leave as my legacy, it would be to instill a measure of confidence in the hygienists I mentor so they can provide the best possible care to their patients.
I enjoy watching the growth and development of new hygienists. They enter the workforce with a broad spectrum of knowledge, and while learning to manage everything from insurance to office personnel, office culture to computer systems, they often lose the focus on what is most important -patient care. However, it is rewarding to see how they learn to refocus themselves by educating their patients with the essential standards of dental hygiene. I consider it a win when I hear hygienists gather enough information through Caries and Perio Risk assessments to care for the patients based on their needs.
Some patients stick with you for years to come. For me, that patient was a woman whose five year old daughter often accompanied her on appointments. This patient was concerned with bleeding from her gums and halitosis, desperately willing to take whatever measures necessary to keep her teeth, especially after witnessing her own mother lose her teeth to dentures. I was able to gather enough information in the patient assessment to learn that she suffered from moderate to severe Perio. As a team, we were able to maintain and control her condition, and beyond accomplishing her goal of keeping her teeth – we improved her overall oral health. Little did I know, her daughter was watching my every move as I cared for her mothers’ teeth through the years.
A few years later I was onboarding a new hygienist for a practice when she asked if I remembered her. I didn’t, but after hearing her story I was shocked to learn that she was that five year old girl watching my every move as I assisted her mother. Beyond helping her mother, I also impacted this young girl’s life - she told me she was so moved by my work with her mom that I inspired her career choice.
From the moment I walked through the door of that campus dental clinic, my career as a hygienist has been very rewarding, and continues to evolve. I’ve spent many years in the field, and have been able to witness so many amazing changes in our profession that have continued to develop who I am today. I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to empower and elevate others through my mentorship. I’m so proud to have Crest + Oral-B as partners who provide us with so much information, support, and quality oral care products that have helped me achieve the highest standard of care for my patients. I am honored to be part of the hygiene profession, caring not only for oral health, but a person’s overall health. I am Hygienist Proud.
Rafael has devoted himself to increasing the profile of male hygienists. He is the founder of the Mr. RDH platform, which aims to empower all male hygienists to grow both personally and professionally. Through his efforts he hopes to strengthen the dental hygienist industry and continue to humanize oral health care.