Leann Keefer, RDH, MSM, is director of corporate education and professional relations for Crosstex International, based in Hauppauge, New York. Her work focuses on advancing Crosstex’s thought leadership among influential oral health professionals. An identifier of trends in the fields of oral care and infection prevention, Keefer develops and implements the corporation’s longterm strategies relating to education and professional relations.
With more than 20 years of experience in academia, she is also an educational strategist who develops diverse educational initiatives for industry professionals, as well as procedural curricula that have been implemented in hundreds of accredited dental hygiene programs. She began her career in education at her alma mater, Indiana University (IU), where she spent 16 years as a dental hygiene faculty member. She also served as the director of the Dental Hygiene Program at the Community College of Denver and as an education strategist for Dentsply Professional, before joining the Crosstex team in 2011.
What inspired your movement from clinical practice to education to industry?
My career journey has been a series of building steps; each new opportunity is based on the previous foundation of knowledge, experience, and skills sets. I like to compare it to a 30+ year LEGO creation. Starting my career in dental hygiene, I had a pile of LEGO bricks with unlimited potential. I was fortunate to have a number of amazing mentors in my life helping to guide and shape my evolution. Lloyd Hagedorn, DDS, my periodontics instructor at IU, encouraged me to think outside the box. I became a dental hygienist on his team, completed my Bachelor of Science in Education degree, and joined him in team teaching periodontics at IU for 12 years.
As an educator, my transition to industry allowed me to combine my clinical knowledge and passion for teaching with business. I was fortunate to complete my graduate studies while working with Water Pik.
Whenever I hear the term “burnout” related to dental hygiene, I am perplexed. Dental hygiene provides a solid, but complex base from which to explore new opportunities. We need to have a vision, remain open to new possibilities, and apply what we know to boost creative imagination and lead to a unique journey. In Danish, LEGO means to play well. You can do the same by finding the intersection of doing what you are passionate about and where you excel professionally.
What are the first steps for dental hygienists who are interested in beginning a career in industry?
Commit time and energy to become the best dental hygienist you can be. Invest in yourself with education. Most corporations require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree along with a number of years of clinical experience. Earning my master’s degree in business opened a multitude of doors for me and moved my career internationally. Read voraciously—dentistry is continually evolving. Expand your reach by reading outside of the realm of dentistry. Finally, leading-edge networking is essential—develop the skills necessary to create, cultivate, and capitalize on relationships to make things happen and impact the bottom-line. Be willing to do the work to move the needle. Take calculated risks!
What qualities do you find most important in an effective leader?
My graduate program curriculum was based on the work of Robert Greenleaf from his essay The Servant as Leader. This philosophy recommends making serving a priority, with the intent of ensuring “that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” Greenleaf stated, “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.” I would sum up the “servant leader” in one word: integrity.
What makes you jump out of bed in the morning? What makes you want to hit the snooze button?
An attitude of gratitude—each day I open two gifts, my eyes, and feel fortunate I have new opportunities to discover. Some weeks can be a challenge with schedules and travel. I’ve learned to celebrate the ordinary days! I have a wonderful family with whom I’ll never have enough time; my husband, Steve, has been the biggest champion in my career for the past 37 years. Our children, now adults with their own successful careers (not in dentistry), have been two of the brightest building blocks for me.
The jarring sound of my alarm once a day is enough of a shock to my system … I stopped using the snooze button years ago—both at the beginning of the day and in my life. I am ready to face the day—opportunity or challenge—and get on with it!
What stokes your passion for infection control?
My passion is building a safer practice environment for patients and oral health professionals through education, innovation, prevention, and collaboration. Continuously emerging diseases, the challenges posed by antibiotic resistance, and increasing demands for compliance with infection control best practices, combined with an elevated awareness of patients and news media created by multiple infection control breaches, have put infection prevention and control at the forefront of the dental profession and industry.
For the past 7 years, I have been honored to be part of Crosstex (subsidiary of Cantel Medical Corp), a recognized global leader and trusted partner in infection prevention and control products and services. Our focus on safer patient care is through innovative, high-quality solutions to ensure maximum compliance in addition to offering an outstanding patient experience. Also, the active community of professionals committed to infection prevention and control is one of the most unique and dedicated. I am honored and inspired to work with global leaders in the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP). OSAP is a growing community of clinicians, educators, researchers, and industry representatives who advocate for safe and infection-free delivery of oral health care. Infection prevention and control—it truly takes a village to succeed!