I am quite certain that most of you have heard the phrase “the seven-year itch”. This phrase could most likely be used for any type of relationship (often refers to marriage); however, personally I find it to be most relevant and real in my professional relationship–my career. Often times “the seven-year itch” is viewed in a negative context with characteristics of boredom, declines in happiness, lack of engagement, and so on. However, upon experiencing “the seven-year itch” now for the second time, I decided it was time to view, and even embrace it in a more positive sense such as desire for growth, personal and professional development, positive change, and rejuvenation. This made me start to wonder how other women in dentistry handle the seven-year itch.
The Back Story
Everyone has a story as to how they got to where they were going, and mine is pretty simple. Growing up in West Virginia I always knew I wanted some type of career in healthcare or education. I talked to my dental hygienist, had a little bit of encouragement, and next thing you know I was applying for dental hygiene school.
I started the dental hygiene program in 2002 at the beautiful West Liberty State College (now West Liberty University) in West Liberty, WV. Graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. I received my degree and headed south to Charlotte, North Carolina. I discovered that the city life was much different than where I came from, but I quickly settled in and found an amazing office and dentist to work for. Five years into clinical practice, I started to get a little antsy. I figured perhaps burnout; I had been working mostly 5 days per week. However, I soon realized that the antsy feeling went from days, to weeks, to months, and a year.
As much as I loved dental hygiene, I started questioning if there was more to the profession or perhaps was I done. I was single, no children, and probably had more spare time on my hands than I ever recognized at the time. So, I decided to be proactive, after all I had worked my butt off and committed a significant about of time to get through dental hygiene school—I was not going to leave the profession that easily. I started seeking out leadership roles and involvement with my professional association. It was something new, exciting, and I was meeting amazing people. I joined advisory committees for dental product companies and started attending national conferences.
Still, I had a drive for more.
I previously mentioned that I always knew that I wanted some type of career in either healthcare or education, so I started to consider my options. After lots of research and determining the most feasible route, in 2009 I started the online Master of Dental Hygiene Program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Two years later, I walked across the stage and received my Master of Dental Hygiene degree, and was more eager than ever to get a teaching position. For two years, I looked weekly online for dental hygiene instructor positions. I learned rather quickly that a dental hygiene instructor position in my area is very hard to come by, whether it be full or part-time.
People normally do not leave instructor positions unless they retire or move. So I continued in clinical practice, more displaced than I had ever been. I honestly prayed every day that a door would open when the timing was right; admittedly, I sometimes begged for it to open immediately. I dreaded the almost 90-minute commute every day and walking in the building. However, once I was there, through the doors and in my operatory, I was okay and ready to see my patients. Some of these patients had been with me since my first day and I loved spending nine years getting to know them and their families. I knew that I still loved dental hygiene and caring for my patients, but I just needed something a little more, a change.
Just when I thought it would never happen, in May 2012 a full-time dental hygiene instructor position was posted. I was beyond elated. I had dedicated nine solid years of my time, heart, and knowledge to clinical practice, and I was ready for a new adventure. After interviewing, I was offered the position and started the following fall semester. I quickly learned that I knew a lot about dental hygiene, but very little about actually teaching dental hygiene. With my master’s degree in education, I had a good foundation, but I still had so much to learn about how to teach. I was confident that it did not matter because I knew that I was where I was supposed to be and I loved it.
Passion and determination can take you far and I had planned to ride on the coattails of both. I took every educational methodology course and professional development course that I could to prepare. Even now, not much has changed. I am constantly reading articles, listening to podcasts, and taking courses. I have even been fortunate enough to present a few of my own educational methodology, nutrition, and infection control courses.
The Current Situation
Here I am, once again, at the seven-year itch wondering what I can add to this adventure. I love the courses that I teach, my co-workers are the best, and I know that I truly have the ability to impact students, but I am starting to get that antsy feeling again. And about that commute…I still do not like it (guess that just comes with living on the outside of the city). In my heart, I am not sure that I could ever leave teaching, at least not completely. I say all of the time that I truly love what I do, but is there more that I should be doing?
Seek and Embrace that Seven-Year Itch
In reality, not everyone may experience the seven-year itch, but I seem to be one who does. I have accepted it and I am okay with it. For me, it is actually healthy and allows me the opportunity to self-reflect and grow. Sometimes we do not allow ourselves to self-reflect enough. We fail to consider our options and we are fearful of change and failure. I am not going to lie; there is always some apprehension that comes with it. I do not think that part will ever go away. However, we should never fault ourselves for wanting more or striving to develop ourselves personally and professionally.
Life is much different now than it was when I entered the profession 15 years ago. I am now married and I have two little boys who take priority over many things. Work-life balance is exactly what it is—a balancing act. Some days are good and some days are complete chaos. As a family, we work together as much as possible to ensure we are able to seek a healthy balance that works for us. For now, I am going to focus on my strengths and passion—teaching, learning, writing, speaking. I am excited to see where this seven-year itch is going to take me.