Our 2012 Spotlight RDH is Katherine Henriques. NODHA has decided to honor Katherine because of her dedication, enthusiam, and call to volunteerism in the field of dental hygiene. Congratulations to her! Here is a little about Katherine if you do not know her already:
Hello, my name is Katherine Henriques. My husband, Stan, and I have been married for 30 years and we have 7 children and 6 grandchildren. I have been a hygienist since 1978.
My exposure to the dental profession began when an opportunity opened up for me to work as a dental assistant after school and on Saturdays. I was in high school, 16 years old, and had been working at a local burger joint. This was an exciting opportunity for me. The office was located in an economically depressed area of Old Miami. This area had been in its prime from the 1920s-1950s, but by the 70s had become a neglected, forgotten part of town with rundown buildings, and dying businesses. Our patient population was from the lower end of the economic and educational strata. I didn’t understand why there were 2 waiting rooms to the office until the office manager explained to me that the building was from the days of segregation. The front waiting room was air-conditioned, the back one was not. I used to ask the elderly patients to please come into the front waiting room but often I could not convince them to do so. Modeled before me by the sweet dentist and the caring staff I worked for in those years as a dental assistant, was kindness, compassion, and first rate dentistry that became the benchmark by which all future dentists and staff would be measured. This was the beginning of my lifetime purpose and goal to treat all patients with dignity and to capitalize on the opportunity to help improve not only their dental status, but their over all wellbeing.
I think I fell in love with New Orleans the day I arrived to go to Dental Hygiene School at Loyola. After I graduated I lasted back in Miami for less than a year then moved back permanently. I love the rhythm and the heart of this city. I especially love the people. Working in various practices around the city I had so many challenging and rewarding experiences. My heart always went out to my patients who for whatever reason had tremendous fear, or those who would apologize, or were embarrassed about the condition of their mouths. My first rule of practice was to treat each patient as though they were my Mom. That being the standard, I have a very high regard for them, and appreciate the trust they place in me. No matter where the patient is in their dental IQ or cooperativeness I aim to make them comfortable and then gently take them to the next level. When I have a patient that is fearful most often it is because they have had a bad experience. I love to take on these challenges of rehabilitating what I call dental cripples. I have seen offices where the indigent are being treated and have been horrified on a number of occasions with the poor treatment that they have received. It is my goal as a member of this profession to be an ambassador for dentistry. I will only take the patient as far as they will let me, and I always let them know that they are in control. Again, the emphasis is on treating all patients with dignity while providing optimum care.
These professional standards have helped me tremendously in my personal life as well. I have worked part-time or temp most of my career and was doing so when our seventh child, Brian, was born…with Down Syndrome. I learned a whole new level of love and acceptance when he came into our world. I learned how to truly see the person behind the disability. People with disabilities are the same on the inside as the rest of us, the externals are just a little different. And I say “a little” because with the most disabled among us, we are still more alike than different. And if you think about it, in the real sense, we all are just “temporarily-abled!” Wait a while, you’ll see.
I had to apply these lessons and standards again, and on a deeper level when my husband had an accident and fell off of a ladder and had a traumatic brain injury in 2004. The earth shifted that day. He was in neuro-intensive care for 2 weeks, in a neuro-rehab facility for four weeks, and then he came home to Nurse Ratchet! He’s been disabled since then with cognitive and memory issues, but the good news is that the sweet, kind man that I married in 1981 is still here.
I am thankful for the profession of dental hygiene that has allowed me to step in and out of practice as the situations of my life have dictated. I have been able to work part-time, or temp, or not at all. I don’t know of too many professions that offer the same flexibility or the same level of gratification that I get from helping people. And I am glad I listened to my Mom when she told me to go into hygiene!