Paula Crose RDH

Meet Paula Crose, a Healthcare Hygienist with Heart

May 19, 2023

Meet Paula Crose, BS, MPH, RDH, PHDH! She is a founding member of National Network of Healthcare Hygienists (NNHH) and a public health advisor fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Paula supported NNHH and the mission early on because of the disconnect between oral health and general health despite increasing scientific evidence demonstrating the mutual impact. She feels it is important to encourage patients to ask more questions and demand more connection between their healthcare providers, and sees great value in the ways that educated oral health professionals can complement and support better overall care in many different health settings beyond private practice dentistry. She joined NNHH because she wanted to network with passionate colleagues who also understand and want to educate others on oral-systemic health and advance the mission of “Every collaborative care team including at least one RDH by 2025.”

Paula completed her Master’s in Public Health last year and is currently in a two year public health advisor fellowship with the CDC to bridge her career and begin to build more connections in the public health sector.  

She states,

“All of the fellows in this program are field assignees at various host sites across the United States and territories, and I am assigned to the Chicago Department of Public Health.  My current full-time role is in community health and specifically community planning and health equity and does not directly tie to my oral health background but the experience is valuable and I have made some amazing connections that allow me the opportunity to continue to develop and I have hopes to expand more in that direction in the future. I also continue to stay connected with my oral health network and work private practice dentistry most Saturdays. I have my Public Health Dental Hygienist certification in Illinois but have only recently moved back and so I have not had the opportunity to utilize it yet. I also hold multiple CITI certifications in research that were required for my masters program research work.”

Paula vulnerably shared that the first real non-clinical role she held was after they lost their only child to a long battle with pediatric cancer. Having been through that 5 year war and devastation and seeing things she couldn’t unsee, she began to feel deeply that our role as RDHs was so much more important than just the regular common private practice discussion of whether a patient should whiten their teeth or not and she needed to be a part of something more than what she was doing at that time.

After her tragedy she served on the medical outreach team at Make-A-Wish Illinois until she moved to San Diego in 2017. In that transition, beyond starting her masters, she decided to get her CA dental hygiene license. She had missed oral health, but did not want to fall back into purely clinical private practice roles, so she began to seek opportunities to segue into non-clinical oral health roles both in volunteer capacity and in a career role as a part-time faculty instructor and didactic lecturer in a dental hygiene program.  

Shortly after getting her California hygiene license, she came across a volunteer non-traditional oral health opportunity. She said,

“I met someone who connected me to a one-of-a-kind Senior Dental Center funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West. It is housed in a day time senior recreation center they had founded that provides various classes, activities, as well as a breakfast and lunch for seniors to congregate and enjoy together. Many of the seniors had painful or missing teeth and were struggling to eat. They worked with an amazing dentist to create this unique sliding scale dental clinic for the seniors to allow them access to have the most crucial needs met of eliminating oral infections, and repairing or replacing broken and missing teeth, plus regular oral health care.  

To honor the grant subsidies used as part of the funding model, an oral health education component was designed and required of patients to learn to care for their teeth in the hopes of better long term health. I served as a volunteer oral health educator, leading small group classes with PowerPoint lectures and Q & A down to one on one targeted sessions as needed. The pandemic cut the rest of our plans short, but by mid 2021, the center reopened to one patient at a time and I was able to return minimally to collect data to help support grant work and quality improvement metrics for my masters practicum project.”

Half way through her MPH degree, Paula also applied to be a Case Investigator on the epidemiology team for San Diego County HHSA COVID task force. She was excited to be selected and took on the full time, work from home role, just to find out her teaching lectures were going to resume remotely too. She was able to juggle the two work schedules, so from mid 2020-mid 2021, she worked 7 days a week, plus studying and homework for her ongoing graduate classes at night, because she wanted to embrace the valuable opportunities and experiences being presented to her. 

When it comes to finding non-clinical or non-traditional roles as an RDH, Paula said she found these positions by putting herself out there. She speaks of networking, sharing your passions verbally with people, and being willing to volunteer your time at first as the keys to career growth. She wants her colleagues to know that resiliency and determination will lead them to other opportunities and rewards:

“I focus on being present and having gratitude for whatever I am doing at the moment, after all I chose it, I said yes. If and when I cannot do that, it means it is time to move on to something different. I stayed in my first clinical role too long (out of what I thought was loyalty) but I have learned to listen to my gut more and be brave enough to leave and move forward before burn out sets in. We have so much knowledge beyond the mechanical removal of calculus. We all have met minimum education and licensing requirements that are comparative to any entry level nurse and like nurses and many other types of healthcare professionals, we all hold varying levels of passion, ambition, education and credentials beyond those entry level requirements that make many of us well suited for other health roles outside of chair side clinical hygiene. 

I often highly recommend joining NNHH to other hygienists, especially those who are passionate about connecting the gap between general health care and oral health. The more we lift one another up and share the message as well as opportunities,  the closer we will come to bridging that gap.”

As far as her future dreams, she said “I keep pushing that ceiling higher and my dreams keep expanding, I will let you know once I get there!”

Connect with Paula at [email protected]

Are you an RDH interested in dental/medical integration and collaboration? Distinguish yourself as a specialist in your field while earning AGD/PACE CE. All of our programs are unbiased and evidence-based to focus solely on high-quality continuing education you can use immediately in a clinical, non-clinical or hybrid role.