The Serendipity of Connection     

In Inspiration, My Story by Liz Graham, RDH, BS

What do Mrs. D.C. Green, Klaus Lang, Connie Dugan, Kristy Menage-Bernie & Trisha O’Hehir have in common? They have been key game changers in my career path. It started with my dad…

Dad hired me to be his P/T dental assistant in the summer when I was 11 and I was excited; Mom said I could only work half days so I could still have “my childhood”. She made me some white uniforms and I went off to work doing my very best to be professional and grown-up at all times. I loved it, I felt valuable and stimulated. I especially enjoyed the connections with patients; talking with people pleased and inspired me. One patient, in particular, moved me, Mrs. D. C. Green. She came in annually as she was a summer visitor to Harbor Springs, our resort town in northern Michigan. Dad would ask where she’d been this past year and every year she had a story that conjured dreams of foreign fun and experience for me. As I think back now, I laugh at how I felt I was so adult and yet, I was only 11 and I knew I wanted to attend University of Michigan (U of M) to become an RDH and travel. I wanted my own answers when asked, “Where have you been?” Thanks, Mrs. Green, I’ve now visited all 7 continents, this year celebrating my 65th birthday in Uganda with the mountain gorillas and next year I will enjoy New Zealand for the first time.

Travel is how I relax, recharge and find fresh ideas. It completes me by giving me wider vision, knowledge and increased compassion. My first big international travel happened when I was 16. We can’t know in advance how small events can shape our world and at that time I had no idea a pair of shoes would indelibly direct my life. My Norwegian Nana died and her estate allowed mom, dad and I to visit Scandinavia. While shopping in Copenhagen, we saw a Dr. Scholl’s wooden clog shop, went in and tried them on. The salesman explained, after learning dad was a dentist, that dentists in Denmark wear clogs for work. That cinched it; we both bought a pair of clogs.

A few years later, while attending U of M to study dental hygiene, I saw a dentist wearing clogs in the library. I’d seen him in the clinic and was sure, because of his clogs, that he was Danish. I introduced myself and he told me he was Swiss and had studied in Denmark and that’s where he’d gotten his clogs. Small world! That’s how I met Klaus Lang – I’d made a new friend from my travels teaching me Danes wear clogs. Klaus knew I was a curious traveler and, as I neared graduation, he helped me to connect with professors at the university in Berne, Switzerland. They needed dental hygienists to help integrate our services into private practice and I wanted to travel and help/work. He placed me there for my first dental hygiene position. The deal was they provided the working papers, job and apartment and paid for my flight to Switzerland and, if I stayed 2 years, my return flight. I couldn’t resist; it was a dream come true – travel and dental hygiene fused together. Who would have ever thought trying on clogs would lead to moving abroad? And yes, wearing clogs became my norm. I still have my Danish pair as a reminder of how something simple and unexpected can be life-changing.

Soon after arriving in Berne I met Connie Walsh Dugan, another American hygienist. It took no time at all for Connie, Geralyn Burns, a U of M classmate of mine, and me to become best friends. We shared our Swiss adventures and traveled whenever we could to see and experience Europe. Moving to Switzerland was one of the best choices I’ve made…we learned and had fun. After 3.5 years it was time to return to Michigan where I worked with my dad and cousin as an RDH and Connie followed to explore being in a sales position in the area. I was sad when she returned to her native Massachusetts, not knowing it signaled yet another surprising event in my life.

Connie opened Merrill Dental Placement, a temp service for dental personnel in southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  Little did I know what a huge impact her decision would have on me. I moved to California to be with my now husband, Greg, a dentist. In 1985 I was going through a job change and Connie reached out to me with an idea, “Why not start an agency similar to mine?”  I considered the idea and decided, “Why not!” I figured, if it didn’t work out, the worst that could happen is I would find a better position than the one I was leaving. With a lick and a promise, I started on my new journey, Graham Placement Agency, inspired by Connie. I’d found my niche…I thrived on helping other RDH to empower themselves; I was able to provide job choices and follow-up coaching. It was thrilling for me to help and feel of value to our professional community. It’s difficult to list the many ways this decision shaped my life; I was empowered from it and loved sharing my growth as a carrot for others. Graham Placement Agency continues to service our community as does my passion to influence RDH to follow their gut to find what is best for them. This was my give back until 2008 when the supply and demand for RDH changed dramatically as did our economy. Renee Marchant encouraged me to attend Beth Thompson’s CareerFusion workshop with her for inspiration. I traveled to Florida to attend and the excited people, knowledge and amazing connections were exhilarating. However, it was having a glass of wine with keynote speaker Trisha O’Hehir that became a pivot point in my life.

Trisha’s visionary thinking had inspired me for many years through her writing, Perio Reports, speaking and instrument designs. Most recently, in October of last year, I earned my BS degree from her O’Hehir University. If you don’t know about it, ask me; it’s a simply amazing program where she acknowledges all we did in our 40 hours per week of study during hygiene school and applies the credit to allow for an online BS program. As part of our studies, we read “Health Behavior Change in the Dental Practice” by Ramseier and Suvan and it opened up the world of not knowing. By asking questions we don’t know the answer to we can learn more to help our patients. Imagine having OHI mean “Oral Health Inspiration”.

That glass of wine became so much more; Trisha and I decided to present a seminar together. I would use skills I’d learned from Kristy Menage-Bernie, RDH while I was on the local ADHA component board. Kristy taught me details of meeting planning and influenced me to think big. She was our CDHA president and continues to be a beacon in our industry as a key opinion leader and an influencer. Trisha and I began with one event and now it’s expanded across the nation as we take her messages to our colleagues; I do the event planning, she does the presentations. We love bringing people together to learn and experience from a connection. My life has taught me that people are life’s game changers.

Because of Trisha, I started my second business, “Liz Graham Presents Seminars for Dental Professionals”. It is another venue for me to support empowerment and choice for our mostly female profession. Giving back to other to women in dentistry has become the juice for me. Renee Marchant (Turner) and I connected as she explored sharing her micro ultrasonics passion and together we developed a hands-on workshop she taught.   Jeanne (Godett) Hurlbut and I expanded her laser teaching into a speaking career and, when her body could no longer provide dental hygiene services, Rochelle Mella found her niche in design and color consulting services. Susan Wingrove is a constant inspiration as we travel the county expanding her speaking schedule with Liz Graham Presents.

Presenting in South Carolina with Trisha put me back in touch with my friend Connie Dugan and she has again given me another nudge, she introduced me to Anne Duffy and DeW. I am constantly amazed by the serendipity of those I meet and the surprising ways they support my life and career path. We can’t know in advance what impact a person will have on our lives.   And so, with a big “How do you DeW”, I am curious to explore what might be just around this corner!

Tell me – how do you DeW?