Could your dental hygiene career
lead to a fast paced life in corporate education? ADEA GoDental practitioner of
the month, Diane S. Peterson, RDH, M.Ed., takes her dental hygiene knowledge on
the road as an Academic Relations Manager for Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals. Her
teaching and mentoring abilities reach far, as she supports over fifty dental
and dental hygiene schools providing dental professionals with current
scientific research and information to assist them with making active,
evidence-based recommendations in their clinical practice.
GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a
career in dental hygiene?
Diane Peterson (DP):
During the 1970's, career options for women in Vermont were limited to
education or a career in the health professions. I had not considered a career
in dental hygiene until I changed dental offices in high school and had my
first encounter with a dental hygienist. She was the wife of the dentist and we
ended up having a great discussion about her profession. It was her enthusiasm
and passion for her profession that led me to pursue a career in dental
(GD): How did
you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental
(DP): My first exposure to this position was through my
involvement with the Vermont Dental Hygienists' Association (VDHA). I was the
current president at the time, as well as a full-time faculty member at the
University of Vermont, when I met the dental hygiene corporate educator from
the company Tom's of Maine®. I had many encounters with this
professional and it was her enthusiasm for her role at her company that had me
entertaining the idea of a corporate position.
(GD): What does
a typical day in your current position entail?
(DP): A typical day includes a great deal of
travel, student presentations, networking with dental and dental hygiene
educators, delivering continuing education courses and answering emails and
skills or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar
role should hold?
(DP): This role requires a person to be self-directed
and self-motivated. Most dental professionals who have these positions also
have good leadership skills. You are in charge of your schedule, but you also
need to be accountable for your time in terms of meeting the company's goals
and objectives. Organizational skills are also essential.
I also spend a great deal of time traveling to my assigned forty-eight
dental hygiene schools and twelve dental schools, so being comfortable spending
a great deal of time alone on the road is important. In addition, the ability
to communicate and listen effectively is also a key attribute for success in
(GD): What is
your favorite part about being in your current role, and why?
(DP): This is an easy question for me! I am an educator
at heart and in this role I get to educate future dental hygiene professionals.
When I was teaching full-time, I sometimes felt that I had to spend too much
time on administrative duties and I could not focus all my efforts on the
students. In this role, when I am with the students, I get to focus on just
(GD): What motivated
you to continue your education beyond the entry-level?
(DP): I graduated with a dental hygiene degree at the
age of nineteen. At the time, I thought I was way too young to get right into a
full time position in dental hygiene so I decided to continue my education. I
worked part time and went to school full time to get a Bachelor’s of Science in
Education. Once I completed this degree, I went back to my home town and worked
in clinical practice full time for fifteen years. In 1995, I was offered a part-time
faculty appointment at the University of Vermont which spurred my passion for
teaching. I discovered that I wanted to teach full-time and in order to do so I
needed to obtain a master’s degree. I completed my degree in the field of
Educational Leadership and was then offered a full-time teaching position.
(GD): How did
your dental hygiene education help prepare you for your career?
(DP): Having good foundational knowledge in dental
hygiene is key for this role. My clinical experience brings credibility to my
role when I provide lecture to students and professionals. Dental hygiene
education today is much different than it was when I graduated in 1978. I think
students today have more critical thinking and technology skills, which are a
must for my current position.
(GD): What is
one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?
(DP): The biggest surprise to me was the amount of
travel and time away from home. It would not change my decision to take the
position, but I think it would have helped my family to anticipate my time
(GD): If you
could give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role
similar to yours, what would it be?
(DP): Continue your education. There will be times
during your professional career when an opportunity will present itself and you
want to be ready to step into the next chapter. It’s much easier to do that if
you already have the advanced degrees needed to make the transition. I would
also say, “Get involved.” I was very active in the American Dental Hygienists’
Association (ADHA) and the Vermont Dental Hygienists’ Association, holding many
leadership roles. It was a way to hone networking, communication, listening and
leadership skills. Companies look at these experiences when seeking qualified
candidates for open positions.