Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, RDH, PhD, is an internationally recognized author and speaker on pharmacology and the care of medically complex patients. She holds several academic appointments, including adjunct associate professor and course director of clinical medicine and pharmacology at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa, Ariz, and clinical associate professor at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. She is also the associate director of the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research, which will host the International Dental Hygiene Research Conference October 20 through October 22, 2011, in Bethesda, Md. In addition to teaching, Spolarich is an independent contractor, providing research and educational consulting services to both private and professional organizations. She practices clinical dental hygiene part time and is the previous chair of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) Council on Research. She is a member of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene’s Editorial Advisory Board.
What attracted you to education?
All my life I knew I wanted to be a teacher in some capacity. I always liked school and my mother is a teacher. I originally wanted to be a physician but my high school guidance counselor told me I wasn’t smart enough to go to college and definitely not smart enough to get into medical school. He suggested becoming a dental assistant or a nurse, or doing office work. I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse and I didn’t want to do office work so I decided to look into dentistry as a stepping stone into medicine. I talked to my own dental hygienist and she encouraged me to try dental hygiene as a career option. I went to dental hygiene school at the University of Pennsylvania, a certificate program, directly from high school never thinking I would stay in the profession. I then went on to a degree completion program at Thomas Jefferson University where a specialization in hospital dental hygiene was offered. I just loved it so I decided to take some additional science classes and I eventually chose to earn a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene at the University of Maryland. During my first year of graduate school I suffered a hand injury so I wasn’t able to practice clinical dental hygiene. As a result, I took a job as a research assistant in the anatomy department where I found that I had a passion for research.
I fell into what I do now accidentally. Life gives you these opportunities and I’m so grateful that I got to take a side track by working in an anatomy department and becoming involved in animal, clinical, and drug studies. I started to realize that I could pursue my love of medicine and research at the same time. I also found that in order to be successful in academia you need a research background.
While I was in graduate school I had my first academic position teaching on the clinic floor in the Dental School at the University of Maryland. Afterward, I applied for my first full-time academic position at Thomas Jefferson University teaching dental hygiene in the clinic and in the hospital setting. At Thomas Jefferson I spent one day per week performing research at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Hospital. This experience gave me a strong background in treating medically complex patients, which became one of my areas of expertise that I lecture about today.
What advice would you share with dental hygienists who are interested in moving from clinical practice into a new career within dental hygiene?
The most important advice I can give is to be open to new things. When we’re mentored in the early stages of our careers, people try to focus our direction early on. But you don’t always know where you’re going to land 5, 10, or 15 years down the road. In my case, being able to work in a variety of settings has made me a better teacher in the latter part of my career. Where I ended up is probably where my mentors thought I would be, but the path I took was different.
I would also advise all dental hygienists to further their education. We get very comfortable in our knowledge base and we don’t realize what we don’t know. I have never stopped learning. I am a voracious reader and I read extensively in disciplines outside of dentistry because I think if you’re going to be a leader in this profession, you have a responsibility to broaden the base of dental hygiene and bring information back to the profession to help it grow.