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  • Writer's pictureIrene Michelle Iancu

A Leap of Faith: Jamaica 2018


Beneath bright blue skies with perfectly painted clouds lies a place that is making a change in dental hygiene.

As a practicing RDH of 11 years, clinical educator and speaker, I not only welcome the opportunity to make a difference in our profession but I have opened my mind and heart to these wonderful coincidences.

Coincidence #1 On June 2nd, 2018, I was emailed by a Stacianne Tennant, BSc, RDH, through a recommendation by a colleague. Stacie had reached out to her on Twitter asking if she would be interested in speaking at an upcoming conference, which marked a milestone in Jamaican dental hygiene. A new association, their only hygiene association, was born and Stacie was determined to rock the boat and make new waves in her seemingly small dental hygiene community.

This is where I came in. My colleague told Stacie that she isn’t the perfect person for the job, although I beg to differ. She has decades of experience as a clinical educator, a practicing hygienist, phenomenal scholar, and to add insult to injury, she is one of the most inspiring and positive individuals I am lucky to know.

Then she recommended me.

Coincidence #2 Stacie already had me in mind for the job. She had been following my RDH journey on Instagram for months and was days away from already making the connection – but this recommendation solidified her instincts.

The rest began to unfold in a series of texts, phone calls and voice notes that led to me agreeing to go to Jamaica this past October (flying out on my birthday was an added bonus!). My expectations at the time can only be described as skeptical, which have now turned into moments of happiness I would have never known had I not taken that leap of faith. I allowed my passion for my profession to guide me in another journey.

Coincidence #3 I came prepared mentally, emotionally and physically. My experiences in my professional life made me the perfect person for the job and I didn’t even realize that until I arrived.

Stacie had a vision of what she was trying to create. The only problem was that she didn’t have the resources to achieve them. In the changing demographic of the Jamaican population, her two visions were simple:

1. Excite dental hygienists and remind them of how valuable they are to the population. 2. Incorporate technology into dental hygiene practice of those in Jamaica.

In the weeks leading up to our event, Stacie had confided that she knew how important this profession is to her but doesn’t believe that others feel the same way. Dentists are reluctant to hire and a high population of them don’t pay fairly. Patients don’t understand the value of oral health and the companies that proudly promote their brands at these events don’t contribute to the growth of the profession.

This is where I came in.

Stacie wanted to put on a whitening session open to everyone. She saw the value in inviting dentists, students, technicians, therapists and assistants. Her vision was to be inclusive and not segregating a “hygiene only” workshop. She was spot on in this decision because as I stood at the front of a refurbished trailer pod filled with people, some without seats, I posed the question, “How many of you have ever done a whitening treatment?” Two shy hands went up in the attendance of close to 60, and one of the two said she wasn’t very experienced and considered herself a beginner.

There is only one brand that is used in Jamaica, which will remain unnamed (mainly because of the disappointment I have that this company refused to donate any product for this specific event).

Stacie did have the backing of her dental hygiene school and an endless supply of willing patients to be guinea pigs for the first ever whitening workshop in Jamaica.

Stacie didn’t know much about my resources in our industry. I arrived with a suitcase filled with various whitening treatments, generously donated by five different companies. When I arrived at the school for the first time straight from the airport, it felt like I was bringing everyone Christmas presents.

Dr. Irving McKenzie, Chief Dental Officer of Jamaica and Dean of the Faculty Joint Colleges of Medicine Oral Sciences and Veterinary Science at the University of Technology, gave me a wonderful tour of the school in a true gentlemanly manner. He shared the history of dentistry in Jamaica and how he has devoted many years to taking oral health to the next level. The beautiful open campus is a series of refurbished pods situated between mango, avocado, and ackee trees.

Dr. McK (as the students call him) encourages the students to eat the fruit on the trees if they aren’t able to bring lunch from home.

As I opened up my suitcase on the staff room table in front of four faculty members, including Monique Evans (Dr. McK’s assistant and a dental hygienist at heart), their eyes lit up. And for a moment, I saw a glimpse of relief from Stacie – a woman I had just officially met and realized her tough exterior had a soft inside. Her exhale revealed she lives and breathes for her profession and her dream of putting on this workshop was slowly coming true.

These three coincidences led to a very successful event. Friendships were made, mentorships between students and practicing clinicians were created, and among what I saw as chaos; 14 patients were assessed, radiographs were exposed, and impressions were taken. As the sun began to set, which was a beautiful orange glow in the circular clinic, I could see teary-eyed patients and clinicians filling the clinic hallways with laughter, teamwork and a lot of selfies.

The next three days were no different. After each of my lectures, I was bombarded with hugs, high-fives, and dental professionals that approached me with tears in their eyes, simply because they thought they had lost connection with their profession. A feeling I could relate to. Leaving Jamaica was extremely difficult because of how much I would love to help and share. Monique and Stacie escorted me to the airport, where we shared a few laughs and warm embraces before parting ways.

As I sat writing this article on my flight home, I realized that coincidences can only happen if you open your mind and heart to the world. Live with a little less fear and a little more trust. Allow your passions to guide you and never say no to growth.


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