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