From clinical dental hygiene practice and consulting to academia, Kelly Tanner Williams, RDH, MS, CDA, is a go-getter. As coordinator of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Reaffirmation at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia, she manages the internal review process to ensure the timely completion of tasks to maintain the school’s compliance with SACSCOC regulations. Williams also has taught in the dental hygiene program at Thomas Nelson Community College.
Active in organized dental hygiene, Williams has worked with the Virginia Board of Dentistry, state agencies, and stakeholders to craft regulatory and statutory language to advance the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene for the past 10 years. She also has served as chair of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Council on Public Relations for the past 2 years. As a past president of the Virginia Dental Hygienists’ Association (VDHA), chair of the VDHA Governmental and Professional Relations Council, and, currently, as the appointed liaison to the Virginia Board of Dentistry, she has used her analytical, strategic, and problem-solving skills to make recommendations to the board. After she began teaching 14 years ago, Williams discovered her personal passion—educating dental professionals on the use of teledentistry and improving oral health through technology. She teaches a self-designed course titled “Telehealthcare Technology” at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, while also consulting with a telehealth organization on a model that may soon become a reality in Virginia.
Teledentistry is one of your passions. What role do you think it will play in the future provision of oral health care?
Teledentistry enables providers to expand their range of care in a variety of locations. By utilizing technologies—such as digital radiography, intraoral photography, and oral cancer and caries screening devices—dental hygienists are able to educate, diagnose, and treatment plan, or refer patients to appropriate providers. An additional advantage of technology utilization is the storage of assessment data within patients’ electronic health records. This creates a shared system of medical records among providers that facilitates interdisciplinary care and can improve treatment outcomes and quality of life for patients.
You are working toward a doctoral degree in organizational leadership at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Tell us about this field and what you hope to gain from earning this degree.
Leadership is a fascinating topic, and there is much debate about what makes leaders successful. While opinions may vary regarding the specific attributes of effective leaders, they are skilled at strategic thinking and maintain not only an understanding of an organization’s vision, but also its ability to effectively carry out and communicate that vision. Organizational leadership combines dual-management approaches that focus on what works for each individual within an organization, and what works best for the group as a whole. This management approach empowers individuals in any role to lead from the top, middle, or bottom of an organization. Organizational leadership encompasses a worldview: the worldview of others; individuals’ attitudes, opinions, and beliefs; and how individuals allow outside forces to influence them. Understanding individuals’ worldviews, values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations enables leaders to acknowledge but look past differences, focus on areas of strengths and agreement, and hear the message of others.
Pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational leadership is a personal goal to challenge my skills as a leader, to be academically credentialed as a PhD, and to become an expert on the topic so that I can contribute my expertise to the dental hygiene profession in additional ways. Dental hygienists bring added value to a variety of work settings because we are systems-based thinkers. As the profession evolves, dental hygienists must remain open to learning from each other. We must continue to support dental hygienists in becoming leaders in all facets of their lives. The lens of organizational leadership extends a unique perspective in which resources and individuals are seen as part of a collective unit that works toward a common goal.
What do you consider as dental hygiene’s greatest challenge?
Creating a shared vision for the profession and committing to the vigorous pursuit of that vision are big challenges faced by the profession. Without this vision, dental hygiene cannot create its future. We must ensure the public understands what dental hygienists do, while remaining committed to furthering education so that we are fully prepared for the changes that are to come. Alignment of the profession through a vision shared individually and collectively yields clinicians who do not play by the rules of the game but, rather, define the rules of the game.
What advice would you give dental hygienists who are just beginning their professional journey?
The famous American philosopher, psychologist, activist, and educational reformer John Dewey stated, “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of a desire to learn.” I challenge students to commit to lifelong learning, step outside of their comfort zones, and leverage their strengths to grow personally and professionally. I encourage students to connect with mentors who provide insight, are able to give advice on career paths, and will assist them in achieving short- and long-term goals.