Hear from Practitioners

Dental Hygiene and Advocacy Join Forces

Posted by Jane Walsh, RDH, J.D. on August 20, 2018

After serving in the United States Air Force, Jane Walsh, RDH, J.D., Program Director of Dental Hygiene at Louisiana State University Health New Orleans School of Dentistry (LSUSD), obtained her dental hygiene degree and then later her Juris Doctorate (J.D.). Equipped with impressive health and academic credentials, Walsh splits her time between educating LSUSD dental hygiene students and working with local advocates to devise ways to provide greater access to care for the people of her home state of Louisiana.

ADEA GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a career in dental hygiene?

Jane Walsh (JW): I remember as a child being envious of my friends who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. I didn’t. I liked math (not common for girls of the 1960’s to say) and people, working with my hands, and yes, cleaning. (I once took my bike apart to clean it as a 10-year-old girl. Who knew that the oil on the chain was a good thing?) Moving forward a dozen or so years and after four years in the Air Force, I used my educational benefits and scholarships to pay for my dental hygiene degree. It satisfied everything I loved as a little girl.  

(GD): How did you first enter dental hygiene education?

(JW): Unfortunately, after a few years of working full time as a dental hygienist, my hands started telling me my dental hygiene career would not be my last. I mulled over my options and realized the part about hygiene that I loved the most was the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. With that in mind I went to law school. Though I did not go to law school to teach dental hygiene, all the pieces came together after I graduated as an opening to teach became available at the University of New England. Sixteen years later I am still in dental hygiene education as the current program director at Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans.

(GD): What does a typical day in your current position entail?

(JW): A typical day includes a great deal of variety. As program director, I could be teaching on the clinic floor with faculty and students, in a discussion meeting or preparing for our admissions process. The program receives nearly 200 applicants annually for our 38 available positions. We are blessed to have the “best of the best” in terms of applicants; these applicants then become the “best of the best” students. They are matched only by a top-notch faculty, staff and administration. 

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Having recently accepted this position after moving from a state with a broader scope of practice to a narrower scope of practice, I have seen the difference that dental hygiene can make. I am continuing to learn about my new state and trying to work in a positive manner with local advocates to devise ways to provide greater access to care for the people of Louisiana.

(GD): What skills or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar role should hold?

(JW): This role requires a person to be able to shift from topic-to-topic with an eye on the future.  As a director, you need to have the ability to look down the road and recognize how trends and changes in the profession will affect what we provide in our curriculum. Flexibility is just as important—the ability to embrace these changes as they come. Science, technology and innovation in health care requires the ability to move outside your comfort zone and accept change as the norm. Motivating those around you to accept and implement these changes are skills that make coming to work day in and day out fulfilling.

(GD): What is your favorite part about being in your current role, and why?

(JW):  That’s easy, helping others succeed! Whether it’s through admissions or finding and creating opportunities for faculty to spread their wings and learn something new, seeing others go beyond what they thought they could accomplish is my favorite part. During admissions we invite dental hygiene applicants to at least one “Open House” or Pre-Dent 101 each year—with potential dental and dental lab technician applicants as well. We attend health fairs at local colleges and also host mock interviews as possible. This allows me to meet the future of dental hygiene face-to-face and to once again provide feedback to help them succeed in the admissions process. 

 (GD): What is one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?

(JW): How valuable my legal education would be in this environment. It has taught me “how to think” and to look constantly for new perspectives when providing care and education. This helps when working with others who may have similar, though not identical, goals. Compromise, arbitration and using facts to persuade are all skills that help in this position.  

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(GD): If you could give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role similar to yours, what would it be?

(JW): Find your passion and never stop learning. Expect constant change and don’t think once you’ve “gotten there” that your journey is complete. Seek out new opportunities and push yourself outside your comfort zone. Always remain interested in how others do what they do, borrow ideas, tweak processes and be prepared for anything to happen, for it always does. Finally, never stop preparing for the next opportunity and accept them when they occur!

About Jane Walsh, RDH, J.D.:

Jane Walsh

Jane Walsh, RDH, J.D.  
Program Director of Dental Hygiene 
Louisiana State University Health New Orleans School of Dentistry

Jane Walsh, RDH, J.D., currently serves as Program Director of Dental Hygiene at Louisiana State University Health New Orleans School of Dentistry (LSUSD). As program director she oversees management of 38 student Bachelor of Dental Hygiene positions, working interprofessionally with dental and dental lab science students and professors.  

Walsh came to LSUSD in the winter of 2016 after 13 years in dental hygiene education at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine (UNE-CDM) in Portland Maine. An attorney and licensed hygienist, Walsh co-created and co-taught an interprofessional health care law course with another dual nurse-attorney professional and continues to stay active with interprofessional activities. She has a passion for advocacy and has been selected as the 2018 ADEA/Sunstar Americas, Inc./Harry W. Bruce, Jr. Legislative fellow. She has spent her fellowship learning how ADEA advances the goals and priorities of its members. In July 2018, Walsh assisted with a presentation at a House Briefing on Title VII, Rural Communities and the Opioid Crisis. 

Outside of work, Walsh enjoys spending time with her daughter. She currently lives in New Orleans and is now enjoying her winters for the first time in a long time.