Hear from Practitioners

Dental Hygiene Education Hits the Road

Posted by Diane S. Peterson, RDH, M.Ed. on May 19, 2016

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. 


ADEA 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 hygiene.

(GD): How did you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental hygiene profession?

(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 phone calls.

(GD): What 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 this role.  

(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 them.

(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 away.

(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.

About Diane S. Peterson, RDH, M.Ed.:

Diane Peterson

Diane S. Peterson, RDH, M.Ed.
Academic Relations Manager, Northeast Region
Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals 

Diane Peterson is currently an Academic Relations Manager for Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, covering seven states in the northeast region of the U.S. She joined Colgate-Palmolive Co. from Surgitel Systems where she was the Northeast Territory Manager. Prior to her position with Surgitel she was a full-time faculty member at Vermont Technical College (2004-2009) and at the University of Vermont (1996-2004). 
She has developed and presented courses to student dental professionals, professional associations, dental societies and study clubs. Her focus is to provide dental professionals with current scientific research and information to assist them with making active, evidence-based recommendations in their clinical practice. Ms. Peterson is an active member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association, the American Dental Education Association and the Sigma Phi Alpha Dental Hygiene Honor Society.