Biology and Renting Cars

In My Story by Kristen BottgerLeave a Comment

When I’m asked what made me want to be a hygienist, I tell people that dentistry was just always in my heart.

At 16 years old, curled up on my parents’ sofa, I read the book “What Color is Your Parachute?” Remember that one? It’s a continually updated job-hunting guide written to point you in the direction of career bliss.

It felt like that book was handing me my destiny. Like Leonardo DiCaprio reaching out to me from the grand staircase of the Titanic saying, “I see you and you want to be a dentist.”

Dentist. I knew that’s what I was meant to do. It was already in my heart and the book (amazingly) brought it to light for me. It was a healthcare profession and it was entrepreneurial. For me, the perfect combo. 

So off to college I went, laboring my way through the checklist of dental school prerequisites. And naturally, after completing my degree in biology, I did not apply to dental school.

Battling burnout, fear, and self-doubt, I made the choice to start working instead. “Maybe I’ll apply in a couple years,” I thought.

At the time, even though I felt it was the right choice, I also felt like I’d let myself down. All that work in school so far and for what?

I should mention that my first full-time job after I graduated was “management trainee” for Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

So now, I not only felt I’d let myself down, but I also had to answer politely inquisitive questions about how I chose to rent cars right after finishing a degree in biology.

It was one of my earlier lessons in how things don’t always work out the way you expect. 

I learned the intricacies of the car rental business and in the process, met my husband who was also renting cars after graduating from college.

As it turned out, neither of us had a passion for renting cars. No really, we didn’t. But we both knew the value of what we were learning – how to run a business and how to sell. You might not know this, but Enterprise has an excellent sales training reputation.

Eventually, we each took our skills and moved on to healthcare, where we hit our strides.

You see, for me, the desire to work in dentistry never left. By now I was feeling ready to get back to school. But I was also now a wife and a mother of two. Four years of dental school and moving to a new city seemed like too much to take on. So we found a compromise.

While my husband worked in healthcare sales, I applied and was accepted to dental hygiene school – a commitment that fit our lifestyle better. The school, however, was a 1.5 hour drive each way from home. So for the next two years I commuted with a few other students (who also happened to be mothers) and we got through the program together.

During that time I discovered I had grit. I learned that I could get up consistently at 4:30 a.m. if it was for something important to me. I learned how to squeeze what I needed to do into time I wouldn’t have thought I had – had I not been forced to find it.

After graduating one of the top in my class, fear crept in again and I worried I’d soon regret not going to dental school.

But – 11 years later – I’ve been pleasantly surprised (and relieved) to discover that hygiene really is the better fit for me. And my sales and business training has come in handy, too.

2020 Dental Copywriter

I think the shutdown during the pandemic in 2020 gave a lot of people a space to pause and reflect. The time away from clinical practice helped me realize that I was ready to take my clinical experience and use it in a new way.

As dental offices began re-opening from the shutdown, I felt an itch to shift direction as a hygienist and oral health educator.

My early work experience and being married to a healthcare sales executive has taught me that the way we communicate is absolutely critical to achieve the outcomes we want.

For a decade I watched the different communication styles of the doctors I worked with. I knew whether or not a patient was going to accept a treatment plan based on the words and tone the doctor used when she/he diagnosed it.

As a result, I learned how to communicate with patients in a way that made them feel seen and understood. I got pretty good at explaining treatment recommendations in a way that let patients choose to schedule based on having all of the information they needed to make a decision.

The catalyst that started my writing career was a single page of patient education I wrote to solve a problem I noticed.

I was getting frustrated that I would explain the need for adjunct periodontal therapies and three month recare appointments to patients over and over again. I could tell that while some patients were grateful for the information and very compliant, others weren’t retaining the information at all. I was repeating the same conversations with the same patients multiple times!

Recognizing that some people just do not retain what they hear in doctors’ offices, I decided to write a one page explanation for patients so they’d be able to read it on their own after they left the office. Not a novel concept, just something that was lacking in that practice.

I typed up a page about everything we wanted our patients to know about periodontal disease and showed it to my doctor. He read it and said, “You were good at English, huh?”

Yes, actually. I was.

I didn’t know at the time, but that was the start of my entrepreneurial journey as a hygienist and a dental writer. I knew I liked to write and I could see a need for this specific type of writing by someone with my specific expertise and experience.

So, I did a little research and…

  • Stumbled upon copywriting (I had no idea what copywriting was but loved the permission to write in phrases and start sentences with “and”).
  • Bought an online course (I’d never done that before!).
  • Hired an expert healthcare copywriter to mentor me (worth every penny!).
  • Started a business (or side hustle, whatever you want to call it).
  • Discovered that I love being an entrepreneur despite the challenges (finally got my healthcare provider-entrepreneur combo).

The Big Picture

Seeing patients in a clinical setting allows me to impact one person at a time. With copywriting, there’s no limit to how many people I can impact.

With clinical work, I get to witness the transformation in a patient’s health as a result of our work together.

With copywriting, I get to help my clients in the dental world achieve their business goals as a result of our work together.

I believe that good communication is one of the keys to success. I often tell my (now teenage) daughters that most problems come about from misunderstandings. And a lack of clear communication is often the root of misunderstandings.

The way we communicate in our personal lives, in clinical settings, and in business can make or break relationships in each of those spaces.

And most importantly, effective communication takes practice. I’m still learning!

Patient Communication

Simply taking a few extra minutes to make a connection with a patient and explain treatment recommendations in a way that resonates with them is often the deciding factor in whether or not that patient decides to schedule their next appointment.

As a clinician, it can be really challenging to have that meaningful conversation with each patient when your schedule is full and you’re crunched for time. But there’s so much to talk about and so much to educate patients about!

It’s a big reason why fellow DeW, Nicki Mackey, and I started Wellness Connection. It’s a newsletter written specifically for patients. Doctors subscribe to get articles they can print or email their patients with relevant health education.

We’ve found that most patients want to understand why treatment is recommended and how it benefits their overall health – and when they do, they willingly schedule their treatment.

I always feel like there’s so much more to say in every appointment. Maybe the patient isn’t in a space where they can hear what we have to say. Maybe as healthcare providers (and humans!) we’re not in a space to say what they need to hear.

I’m so excited about this newsletter! It feels like I’m coming full circle in my career by helping communication continue outside of the operatory and outside of the office – so it’s more easily received.

I’m still early in my journey as a hygienist and as an entrepreneur. I know the learning and networking never ends, so it’s wonderful to join the DeW community of like-minded women!

Cheers to the entrepreneurial journey!

Kristen has been a hygienist since 2011 and a dental copywriter since 2020. She and her husband of 18 years are both native San Diegans and craft beer enthusiasts (they love the local stuff!) They have two daughters and two retired racing greyhounds. Concerts and travel are almost always on their calendar.

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