Office of Science Education Office of Science Education LifeWorks Icons
LifeWorks
Search
OSE Home > LifeWorks > Interviews > Sherri Gollins
LifeWorks Icons
Meet a real Dental Hygienist, Sherri Gollins
Interview

Sherri Gollins, Dental Hygienist, Research Dental Hygienist, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
Sherri Gollins, Dental Hygienist, Research Dental Hygienist, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

1. I chose this career because...

2. My career path...

3. My typical workday involves...

4. What I like best/least about my work...

5. My career goals are...

6. When I'm not working, I like to...

7. Big money dreams and the perfect fit...


1. I chose this career because...

Back to Top  Back to top
Because a sterile envionment is important to ensure patient safety from the transmission of disease, Sherri Gollins sterilizes equipment and keeps instruments covered with plastic until ready for patient use.
Because a sterile envionment is important to ensure patient safety from the transmission of disease, Sherri Gollins sterilizes equipment and keeps instruments covered with plastic until ready for patient use.

I choose to become a dental hygienist because it offered independence and a chance to help other people. At first, I wanted to be a teacher. However, at the time when I needed to make a career decision, I realized that the teaching jobs were limited and very competitive.

My youth was influenced by the culture of my family and Judaism. We all looked for and seized opportunities to help repair our world by helping others. I knew that I would make that a big part of my life. I am always drawn to the kind of work and social situations where I can help people.
My father was adamant that I finish college before making any other life plans. He wanted me to be sure that I could provide for myself no matter what life put on my plate. He had been reading about the “new woman’s field”, dental hygiene, and suggested I look into it. I had lived my entire middle school and high school years in an orthodontist’s office as a patient and was familiar with the surroundings. I liked the sciences and did fairly well. I checked into it, and decided to pursue dental hygiene as a career.

Sadly, my father died the year I started college. At that time, his wishes for me were set in stone. His reasoning became clear. My mother became a widow at 38 years of age. She had no career, no credit in her name, and two teenage children to support and educate. I did not want to encounter the same situation in my future. I needed a career that would ensure my independence and livelihood. This made me work even harder to be sure I was accepted into a dental hygiene program.

College Education

Associate of Science, Dental Hygiene, Midwestern State University (http://www.mwsu.edu/), Wichita Falls, Texas
Bachelor of Science, Dental Hygiene, University of New Mexico (http://www.unm.edu/), Albuquerque, New Mexico

Member

American Dental Hygienists Association (http://www.adha.org/, ADHA)

Working and Continuing My Education

I left Texas with my Associate degree, which was all I needed to practice dental hygiene. Although I was just a few hours short of my Bachelors degree, the school closed the program for an undetermined amount of time. I decided not to wait around. I went back to New Mexico to practice, earn a living, and get out in the world. I wasn’t sure about continuing on for my Bachelors degree at that point.

As the years went by, I realized I wanted it just for me. It wouldn’t make a difference in my earning power or responsibilities in private practice, but as a researcher, it could. Since I could do distance study and a field project in the research arena, I decided to complete my bachelors degree at University of New Mexico, where I had done my first 2 years of college.

Great Instructors

I had two great instructors in the dental hygiene program in Texas. Both of these women made me see my career as more than just a way to earn an income. They helped me find work that I had a passion for. The director of the program was a woman of great warmth and compassion. She showed me how to connect the professional aspects of the work with the human side, which includes respect for the patient. Another one of my clinical instructors loved her work. She taught it with great enthusiasm and based on standards for excellence. She placed the highest expectations on her students. I would sweat at every exam and every evaluation. When a student was successful in her eyes, we knew we had earned it. She was, and is very active in her state organizations. She has contributed a great deal to dental hygiene, not only as a profession, but also as a guide to her students, instilling a sense of pride and integrity in each of us.

2. My career path...

Back to Top  Back to top
As shown here, typical instruments that Sherri Gollins uses to examine the oral environment include scalers, currettes, explorers and probes.
As shown here, typical instruments that Sherri Gollins uses to examine the oral environment include scalers, currettes, explorers and probes.

I chose this career path because I had the opportunity to teach people to be in charge of their own health. Funny how my original career choice to become a teacher snuck its way in. A large part of what I needed to do, in order to be effective, was to teach and guide. In the beginning of my career, it was about improving the environment of the oral cavity. However, as many of us suspected, it has been proven that the oral environment has an affect on many more systems in our body. It becomes more than just mouth care.
  • Private Practice with a Doctor - I began in private practice with a doctor who was always on the cutting edge. He was always looking for new and better ways to diagnose and treat patients. He believed in continuing education and included his whole staff regularly. Later, I had the opportunity to work in a community that was greatly influenced by alternative/complementary medicine. As a result, I was exposed to many of the healing arts and their influences on dentistry. It was very interesting work and I met a lot of remarkable people. For 8 years, I worked in a biological/mercury-free practice. What a tremendous experience. Not only was my work as a hygienist more rewarding and successful, but I got to see the controversy in the dentistry field regarding mercury. During this time, I learned so much about dental hygiene that was outside of my textbook. It helped me stretch my thinking and be more of an investigative practitioner. I think outside of the box more, and research more when things don’t fall into the standard way of thinking.
  • Traveling Hygienist - My next move was a big change. I became a traveling hygienist taking care of nursing home patients around the state of New Mexico. I worked with a group of people who were committed to getting care to a population who were often denied care for economic reasons. I scaled teeth for bed-ridden individuals, beside their wheelchairs, and in any position necessary to deliver care. No fancy equipment, that’s for sure. We took care of the residents every 3 months. Our doctors visited first to do exams, and the hygiene team followed. Over the 2-year period that I worked for the company, we saw many of our patients improve, even with the primitive care we delivered. Sometimes the greatest thing we did was to make a very personal connection with a person who was just glad to have some company. Some of their stories were amazing and wonderful, but the smiles on their faces were the best.
  • Hygienist and Researcher – Now I am at the National Institutes of Health. Life’s circumstances brought my family across the country to Maryland. I had to leave the work I had grown to love. It was very hard to leave knowing that I would not be able to do the same kind of work in my new home. I started working as a temporary hygienist, getting a feel for the area. I was asked to work in the NIH dental clinic one day a week. After 4 ½ years, I am working 5 days a week and hard at work in research, which is an unexpected and thrilling change in my career.





3. My typical workday involves...

Back to Top  Back to top
A panoramic radiograph machine is used to view images from ear to ear and from the sinus cavity to the chin, all in one radiograph.
A panoramic radiograph machine is used to view images from ear to ear and from the sinus cavity to the chin, all in one radiograph.

My typical workday involves wearing many different hats, which keeps life interesting. I don’t always do the same tasks every day. Our clinic cares for patients mainly between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. When I am not caring for patients, I take care of the administrative work. At this point, I have many more administrative than clinical care duties.

As a dental hygienist working in a research hospital my duties are to:
  • Manage Data and Coordinate Patient Care – Data management is a large part of my job and along with that goes coordinating patient care according to our protocols. I often interact with hospital research nurses and doctors who care for these people, as well. When I am part of a protocol, my work might take me outside of NIH to do data collection or education. I might also go to a unit in the hospital to review oral care with the patients.
  • Attend Meetings – There are meetings held biweekly to discuss findings in our clinical exams, which is always a great opportunity to learn about the rare syndromes that we see at NIH. Syndromes that are part of my daily vocabulary may not have been heard of before outside of this environment.
  • Collaborate – At times, I may collaborate with IT staff to create databases to support our protocols.
  • Mentor – In the past, I have been a clinical mentor for students coming from local universities to shadow, practice, and do class projects.

Life is never boring here. There is always something new and different each day, whether it is the task at hand, or a syndrome I may never have heard of before.

My work environment

We care for people from all over the world so our environment is multicultural and very interesting. Likewise, our scientists and health care professionals are from all over the world. You learn a lot about your differences, but you also see how much people are alike. When we are sick, we need each other. When we are caregivers, we are in a hurry to find the way to help. We have the best of the best at our disposal to aid in bringing health to the public.

Having a heart in oral care

I consider myself a good listener and a good communicator. That’s important when you are in a profession that is notorious for having a reputation of terror and torture. I have been told that I have kind and gentle hands. I decided long ago that I wanted to give the kind of care I expected to receive. My years of practice have given me a 360° view and that’s what you need to work at NIH. You have to have good clinical skills, but you have to have a heart and compassion to be able to work with a fragile population. You have to be able to step outside of yourself to see things from another’s viewpoint, sometimes academically and sometimes culturally. I am in a dream-come-true situation where I am part of the research, and also deliver the clinical care based on the research we do. It’s an amazing place to be. I know my job will change as the mission of NIH changes, but that’s a plus for me.

When I worked as a dental hygienist in a private practice setting, we typically delivered the following during an examination:
  • Thorough review of health history
  • Blood pressure is taken. Screening for hypertension is a wonderful service to offer your patients
  • Intraoral and extraoral radiographs for detection of pathology such as cysts, abscesses, tumors and decay, as well as, abnormal findings such as extra teeth, delayed eruption patterns and craniofacial abnormalities
  • Oral cancer exam of intraoral and extraoral soft tissues and the head and neck
  • Periodontal evaluation to monitor bleeding, presence of infection, bone health, gum recession or swelling, plaque and calculus retention
  • Treatment - scaling, root planning, coronal polishing for example, to remove plaque, calculus and stain. Hygienists in some states can be licensed to administer local anesthesia to aid in comfort during some of these procedures.
  • Placement of protective occlusal sealants as indicated
  • Oral hygiene education, as well as, nutritional education
  • The doctor will diagnose any pathology and recommend further treatment.

4. What I like best/least about my work...

Back to Top  Back to top
Sherri Gollins uses a specialized camera that produces three-dimensional images to evaluate a patient's soft tissue facial features.
Sherri Gollins uses a specialized camera that produces three-dimensional images to evaluate a patient's soft tissue facial features.

What I like best about my work is that it’s new and different every day. The mission of NIH changes and so will the goals of the work. It is a place to grow in and experience new ideas. The staff changes a lot, as interns and fellows leave their mark and move on. It is not a place where a person can easily get stuck. The force of the institute pushes you on.

My job is rewarding and satisfying. When I am part of something that confirms or denies what we need to know to deliver better healthcare to the world, I feel proud and honored that I have been a contributor. It’s an incredible feeling.

What I like least about my work is seeing children who are sick and will not get well. It’s hard to see a beautiful child be frail and in pain. Their lives and their family’s lives are forever changed. The parents and families are great champions and defenders of their kids. Many families whose child does not survive, go on to do great things in memory of their child, and I am always inspired.

On the clinical side, the treatment I provide for people is never going to be finished. Many times the best I can do is an introduction to oral care and beginning clinical care. Often I don’t have the opportunity to see them become orally healthy, or to finish what I begin. That’s not why they come to see me. We are helping them get ready for medical care that may put them at risk for infection, but will hopefully save their lives.

On the research side, sometimes the path you are on turns out to be the wrong one. To right yourself, you may have to start over. The work is tedious and you have to be meticulous or the study may not have valid and reliable findings.

5. My career goals are...

Back to Top  Back to top
Sherri Gollins examines a patient.
Sherri Gollins examines a patient.

My career goals include working towards a Masters degree. I just can’t decide what direction I’d like to go. I hope that it will keep me here at NIH and help my career to be more interesting, challenging and new. I never thought I would return to school for my career. I always thought I’d go back just to keep learning and stretching, but I am motivated to continue my studies with a goal in mind.

6. When I'm not working, I like to...

Back to Top  Back to top
The imaging machine shown creates 3-dimensional radiographs of a patient's head and neck region.
The imaging machine shown creates 3-dimensional radiographs of a patient's head and neck region.

I have a full life outside of my career. Our two children are always a focal point and we spend a lot of time with them and being a part of their lives. My husband’s career (Cantor) requires that I be with him often in my other role beside him. I love all kinds of arts and crafts, and am mostly drawn to small and intricate work. I enjoy music so much; it continues to be a huge part of my life. It can move me and soothe me! We try to work out regularly to stay fit mentally and physically, but for real fun, we enjoy water sports especially since we moved here. We hope that travel and exploration of this part of the country and the world will fill more of our recreation time. People and the cities they build, and the cultures in which they live, are fascinating. We want to experience that more.

7. Big money dreams and the perfect fit...

Back to Top  Back to top
Sherri Gollins uses a puppet to teach oral hygiene to pediatric patients in the NIH Clinical Center.
Sherri Gollins uses a puppet to teach oral hygiene to pediatric patients in the NIH Clinical Center.

When students of any age tell me ‘what they want to be when they grow up’, I ask them, ‘why?’ Too many times, it’s about what they think they can earn. Too many times, I have seen these students follow their dream in a degree path they believe will provide high earnings; only to find that they are bored to death and don’t enjoy the work.

Many people have asked me why I didn’t go on to be a dentist. Somehow, to them, I hadn’t achieved all I could because I didn’t become a doctor; that I was somewhat less successful. I don’t agree. When you look at the job of a dentist, it’s very different from a dental hygienist. There was not much about the dentist’s job that appealed to me. My job fits me well. As I find that I have needs to grow, challenge myself, do more, and learn more, there are plenty of opportunities. Choosing which path to take is the fun part!


















































     
Office of Science Education skip navigation
Contact Us   |   FOIA
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services   |   National Institutes of Health   |   USA.gov - Government made easy


Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives • National Institutes of Health • Bethesda, Maryland 20892

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®