The Many Doors Dentistry Will Open

In Success by Connie Dugan

In February of 1952, during the epic blizzard of Boston, a budding woman in dentistry, Connie, was born to Dr. and Mrs. Leo Walsh. At the time, my father was the only dentist in this historic little suburban town west of the city. Over the years his patients, who truly became his extended family, lovingly knew him as Doc. He was kind of an old-fashioned dentist, whose professional values matched with kindness, and were evident in his practice. We saw that all over town at the grocery, drug store and church.

My father was my hero, and as a young girl I loved going to his practice and role-playing as secretary and dental assistant. I guess it’s no accident that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

So when it came time to think about college, I landed at the University of Rhode Island School of Dental Hygiene. During a career symposium, I learned about RDH opportunities in Switzerland. At that time, there were no RDH schools in Switzerland, so visas were set up and RDHs were imported from the USA. Right then–this became my exciting vision of living and working in Europe. I needed one year’s experience to apply, so of course my father hired me. I was so proud to wear my white uniform and cap with the purple velvet stripe, (not so much the white hose :-). Also knowing I would need to speak French and German, I began studying Berlitz conversational courses.

The headquarters for placing RDHs was in Zurich, and I decided it best to pack my trunk and have my parents ship it over when I landed a job.

I interviewed in all the towns that appealed to me. When I arrived in the medieval town of Berne (the capital of Switzerland), I fell in love with the old world charm. I signed my contract with three dentists, none of which spoke English! Apparently, German would become my second language. I spent a magical five years and traveled all over Europe. But, “Ich bin einen Americanerin,” and it was time to head home to the U.S.

By then, my father was encouraging me to go back to dental school and take over his practice. I knew I wanted to expand beyond the clinical operatory and had a sense that I wanted to combine my knowledge of dentistry and business. So I enrolled at Wellesley College in pursuit of studying economics and began temping as an RDH. A blind date changed my path when Richard Dugan proposed and we married three months later. Soon followed the birth of our daughter, Merrill. I really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and having worked as a temp, I decided to open my own temp agency. Merrill Dental Auxiliaries (MDA) was launched, and soon I had over 200 clients and over 100 RDHs working part-time for me. It was a seven-day-a-week on-call service to fill any needs for assistants, hygienists and dentists. Eight years later, we decided to move from New Hampshire to Hilton Head, S.C., so I sold my company to my part-time manager.

Now living on a fairly remote island and needing to contribute to the family budget, I decided to franchise my concept of the dental temp agency. I advertised in RDH Magazine, and over the course of two years set up 32 agencies in North America.

While perusing the classified advertising section in RDH, I spotted an ad with a headline that read, “Work from Home–Rep Oxyfresh Dental Products”. So I called the 1-800 number and divine providence played its hand, when a Dr. Jay Clark answered the phone. He had been one of my anchor clients of MDA! We became partners, and in four years we rose to the top of the company, became trainers and keynote speakers. In growing our vast sales team, life coaching became known as a valuable tool. Over the next four years, we became certified as personal-development and business-building coaches. This was so gratifying that I decided to launch my own company for coaching budding entrepreneurs and opened The Heart of Business. I soon was coaching both men and women from all over the country in diverse businesses. All the while, I was so grateful to be working from home and available to my then teenage children.

In 2004, life delivered an unexpected challenge. I was diagnosed with both melanoma and breast cancer. My business became fighting for my life. Through surgeries, chemo, radiation and then therapy, I am convinced thousands of prayers convinced God that my life work was not yet finished.

Twelve years later, I am a miracle. Now, my soul beckons me to do something more creative. Having designed and built seven homes and sold furnishings, why not interior design? I sought out a top designer and apprenticed under her.

Seven years later, I launched “Infinity Home Décor & Staging … Where Possibilities Are Endless. All went well, as I built my clientele over time, but then the recession of 2008 hit. I decided it made sense to work for a corporation with benefits and soon was hired as the interior designer at Havertys Furniture in Bluffton, SC. It’s a dream job—a place where I feel all my tribulations and trials have lead me. On a daily basis, I put all my life and work skills to good use in creating serene and beautiful homes for my clients. It’s rumored that I am the top designer in the company. We’ll see when awards are handed out at the end of this year. The important thing is that I love my job and the team I get to play with!

Who would ever have guessed the path of this young dental hygiene student in 1970? To all the many dental students, my advice is to cherish your profession, find your niche, hone your skills, focus on your passions, embrace your vision and get ready for the ride of your life!