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Doni L. Bird, CDA, RDA, MA
Director of Allied Dental Education
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa, California
Debbie S. Robinson, CDA, MS
Research Assistant Professor and Study Coordinator
Department of Operative Dentistry
School of Dentistry
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The co-authors of Modern Dental Assisting sit down with the editors of Inside Dental Assisting to talk about their journey with the profession’s flagship textbook.
Inside Dental Assisting (IDA): How long has each of you been a dental assistant?
Doni L. Bird (DLB): After graduating with an associate degree in dental assisting from San Francisco City College (CCSF) in 1962, I began my career as a chairside dental assistant in the outpatient dental clinic at Mt. Zion Hospital, and ultimately became supervisor of the dental clinic. While working full-time as a dental assistant, I completed my bachelor’s degree in educational technology at San Francisco State University, and then began teaching at CCSF. During this time, I participated in a clinical research program between CCSF and University of the Pacific School of Dentistry to determine the feasibility of dental assistants placing permanent restorations. This was long before any consideration was given to changing regulations for dental assistant duties. I later received my master’s degree in education from San Francisco State University.
Debbie S. Robinson (DSR): I have been a dental assistant for 35 years. I graduated with an associate degree in dental assisting from Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. From there I worked in a pediatric/orthodontic practice for 6 years. During that time, I completed my bachelor’s degree in health administration, and was asked to help teach in preclinical and lab courses at my alma mater, which sparked my interest in teaching. I received my master’s degree in dental auxiliary teachers education at the University of North Carolina.
IDA: What led both of you to becoming the co-authors of Modern Dental Assisting?
DLB: Hazel Torres and I were both working in the continuing education department at the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry in 1989, and Hazel asked me if I would be interested in doing some writing for the Modern Dental Assisting textbook. At the time, I had serious doubts about my ability to do this. But Hazel had confidence in me and assured me that she and Ann Ehrlich would mentor me. I joined the team for the fifth edition, which was published in 1990. How fast time flies—this spring, the 12th edition of Modern Dental Assisting was published.
DSR: Ann Ehrlich (an original co-author) approached me in 1990 about doing some content writing for specific areas of Modern Dental Assisting. It was such a great experience, and I enjoyed working with the team, that I gradually took on more responsibility until I was asked to come on as a co-author in 1995.
IDA: What obstacles do you face in continuing to get the book updated and published?
DLB: Between editions, Debbie and I collaborate continually and work very hard to keep Modern Dental Assisting the flagship of dental assisting textbooks. We solicit input from students and educators throughout the United States and Canada. We are continually doing research on the latest information regarding materials, techniques, technology, and infection prevention. We are supported by a fabulous team at Elsevier Publishing that is totally committed to developing new and exciting learning ancillary resources to accompany the Modern Dental Assisting textbook.
DSR: Every revision is a challenge for Doni and myself, to find that balance in providing the basics that a student needs, but also to be able to integrate the current dental teachings and technical advances that dentistry has seen. We always have to be respectful of the uniqueness of every dental assistant, dental assisting educator, and dental practice throughout the United States and Canada, because their teachings are not identical.
IDA: How much changes from edition to edition? How often is it updated?
DLB: The revision schedule is every 3 years, and we can plan well in advance for it. However, changes occur within the profession without concern for our publishing date. There have been times when we thought we were ready to go to print, and something new has been discovered or a change in technology or the standard of care has occurred. When this happens, there is a scramble to update or revise the content and make certain that each edition of Modern Dental Assisting is as up-to-the-minute as physically possible. Examples of a few of these last-minute notifications have included new CDC recommendations, new information on emerging diseases, changes in antibiotic or vaccination protocols, changes in fluoride recommendations, and changes in dietary recommendations.
DSR: The three-year revision cycle can make it challenging for us to specifically pinpoint where to make changes. We rely on our reviewers, who are all dental assisting educators, to give us insight into their needs and what specific areas in the textbook where we need to update or provide more content. An example for me is the specialty areas of the textbook, such as implants and orthodontics.
IDA: Can you talk about the influence that Hazel and Ann had—and perhaps continue to have—in how you make your editorial decisions?
DLB: Hazel was a very influential force for dental assisting as well as for me personally. She believed in the profession with all of her heart and soul and she would defend her principles to the end. In my career, both past and present, I have thought to myself numerous times, “What would Hazel do?” and with the answer in mind, I would make my decision.
Ann is now living in California and I have the opportunity to see her and we go to lunch. As she has always been, Ann is dynamic, focused, and motivated, and she instills those qualities in those around her. I will always remember this about Ann: Early on, when I wrote about a product that had once been used, she wrote back on my manuscript, “Tell them what is, not what was.” I have never forgotten her words.
DSR: One of the biggest influences from Hazel and Ann, for both Doni and myself, is how well we have collaborated and worked together. We have always said that we are the “East Coast/West Coast” duo, and we have always shown respect for each other’s knowledge and devotion to Modern Dental Assisting. We are constantly reminded that we are one of the most respected working relationships at Elsevier.
IDA: Why is dental assisting important to you? What do you love most about it?
DLB: Dental assisting is a career with a multitude of opportunities within it. Making fearful patients more confident, seeing that you can really make a positive impact on the success of a dental practice, enjoying a sense of self-satisfaction from knowing that you are a responsible professional—the personal characteristics and ideals that you develop as a dental assistant will take you to levels in your future that you may never have thought possible.
DSR: Dental assisting is a profession that is the heart and soul of a dental practice. If it is making a positive impact for a patient or inspiring a student in a preclinical or lab environment, that is what it is all about. It just melts my heart when I run into a graduate of the [dental assistant] program and they still comment on the impact that I made in their education and life.
IDA: Do either of you have any “career mentors”? Why are they important to you?
DLB: I have been fortunate to have had many career mentors. In fact, they are the reason my career has been so rewarding. My mentors within the CDAA, ADAA, and the DANB Board guided me and enhanced my respect and devotion to the profession. One of the best things about being a dental assistant is meeting other dental assistants whom you admire.
DSR: I am fortunate to have had a few mentors throughout my career, but I would say [that of them all] Ann was so instrumental in the professional directions I have taken in the last 25 years. She gave me the inspiration and strength to say “yes” to professional opportunities that I may not have considered. I have grown more as a person and a professional because of her.
IDA: What gets you going every day? How are you inspired to do what you do? What motivates you?
DLB: Aside from the six horses, two dogs, and a cat that get me going every day, I look forward to the opportunity of being part of a group of individuals who are motivated to make changes and help others find their way. I am thankful every day for those who helped me along the way, and those whom I can help.
DSR: I have been blessed to take on new challenges and roles in the last several years, which I can honestly say keep me learning daily, and that is the best feeling at any age. Along with that, I am working with national dental and health organizations, researchers, and students in various stages of their education, which all inspire me to grow.
IDA: What advice do you have for readers for building their careers, finding inspiration, budgeting their time, or anything else?
DLB: Keep your focus and do not let anyone discourage you. You are stronger than you may think you are. Look for the positive in others, and find time to be kind to yourself.
DSR: Work with people who encourage you and make your day complete. Secondly, do not close doors on the people you meet or the opportunities that may be around you. You just never know where it will lead you.
IDA: Where would you like to see the profession heading?
DLB: The needs and demand for quality dental care are not being satisfied today. I believe that, currently, well-educated dental assistants are not being trained and utilized to their maximum capability. I would like to see more opportunities for dental assistants to receive additional training and become an integral part of delivering quality dental healthcare. I would like to see the dental assisting profession move into the arena of delivering dental healthcare services to the underserved.
DSR: I have always felt that our profession paralleled the nursing profession, and that we have been held back for many years in developing our skills and capabilities. I do feel this profession has a calling to be more instrumental in serving a population that is in need of general dental care. I have no reservations that we could make an impact in dentistry and our communities.