Practicing as an American dental hygienist in Switzerland is much more complicated today than it was 20 years ago. This is why there are so few American hygienists present in Switzerland now.
When I worked there, there was a community of hundreds of Americans consisting of both Canadians and U.S Americans. There were also hygienists from Scandinavian countries present. What happened so suddenly to cause this decline?
Rachael England is a Dental Hygienist Traveling Abroad. She has worked in three different countries and has her own non-profit dental organization in Kenya: Maasai Molar.
Where are you originally from?
Have you always worked in the dental field? If not, what other fields? Any other degrees acquired before turning to hygiene?
I have worked in dentistry since leaving school at 16. First I worked as a dental assistant and gained my first qualifications. However, I always wanted to be a dental hygienist and knew the Royal Air Force provided training opportunities, so, I joined the RAF aged 18. I was selected for DH training at 23 and finished serving when I was 28, in 2008.
What country did you or do you work abroad in? From which years?
I lived in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from 2013 – 2018. Then, I briefly moved to London, UK, to undertake a research contract for 6 months. After that, I moved to Geneva, Switzerland in February 2019.
What inspired you to move abroad?
After leaving the RAF, I found it very hard to settle. I didn’t feel as though I fit in with small private clinics and found the adjustment to “civvi” life quite challenging. When the position in the UAE came up, I thought, why not?!
What did your family say?
My family have always been very supportive and saw it as an opportunity for a nice holiday or two.
Were you afraid?
I was certainly apprehensive when I was leaving for the airport, not knowing what to expect when I arrived. My clinic was supportive and sent a staff member to help me out in the first few days like taking me to my exam for a local license and to complete the immigration process. This made a big difference. Everyone is in the same boat, so people are very helpful and accommodating to “newbies”.
Moving to Geneva was much easier because I had already experienced moving to a new country once. The hardest thing was finding a decent apartment!
What is/was that region known for?
Despite what people perceive about the UAE, the region has a deep cultural history as being an essential port on the Silk Route. There are many historical sites to visit and UNESCO heritage sites. Working in the UAE is a real opportunity to get to know about different cultures because the community is largely made up of expats and foreign workers; as well as all of the modern hotels and the glitz.
What practice did you work for and in which specialty? Makeup of staff, etc?
I worked for a large polyclinic initially, then a smaller private practice. The specialties are the same as back home – there are only so many ways to look after teeth!
It was always my ambition to work in global public health and now I work for the FDI – The World Dental Federation as a Public Health and Education Manager. My work has me overseeing global oral health projects, research projects, managing policy statement development and the Dental Practice Committee. This Committee is behind some of the policies and ways we do things in dental clinics from day-to-day.
What is/was your social life like?
I would say it takes around 6 months to settle into a new country and find “your people”. Living overseas can be quite intense because you form strong friendships, but people leave and arrive all of the time. Working in the UAE was very much work hard/play hard, but life here in Geneva is much more relaxed.
What did you most enjoy? Least enjoy? Why?
I mostly enjoy experiencing new cultures, visiting new places and trying out food from around the world. I least enjoy trying to make new friends. As an introvert, it can be hard to put yourself out there until you find your people.
What were the patients like? Any exceptional experiences? Good or bad?
Patients are the same around the world. Some good and some anxious and fearful, but it is interesting treating so many global citizens and hearing their stories.
How did the experience change you as a person? Professionally? Personally?
Working overseas really makes you grow as a person and professionally. It widens your horizons and gives you a very deep understanding of yourself (eg. being resilient and independent) but also of other people and appreciating their culture, faith and language.
Do you still practice hygiene? Why or why not? Any plans to leave hygiene?
No, I have now moved into the global dental public health field. As I mentioned before, I oversee projects that are improving the oral health of whole populations, rather than working individually with people in a clinic.
Do you have any other projects or businesses on the side?
In 2018 I set up a charity called Maasai Molar. Every year I take a team of volunteers to the Maasai Mara in Kenya to provide oral healthcare. Last year, I recruited a young woman who is the first Community Oral Health Worker in the region and she visits the schools between our visits to provide health education and keep them supplied with toothbrushes.
Living or studying abroad was always the dream of this international dental hygienist, Sarah Twiford. After backpacking around Europe in 2016, she felt she had to see more of Europe. See how Sarah came to work as an international dental hygienist in Germany.
Have you ever asked yourself, “How did dental hygiene, as we know it, begin?” While I remember learning the history and politics of dental hygiene during my studies, the details seemed to vanish into thin air under all of the other hygiene school pressure.
However, I recently came across this entertaining article, “Dental hygiene’s grand history”, by Laurie A. Milling, published in RDH magazine in 2010. Then I saw that there was more where that came from, such as this “100 years of dental hygiene timeline”. After reading these pages, along with a few others, I was so pleased to see how far dental hygiene has progressed as a profession in the US.
Fulfilling your dental hygiene continuing education requirements while living and working abroad is possible. No need to worry about not being able to fulfill your CE obligations. There are opportunities for in-person and virtual seminars on an international level. Check out the following large and small associations and organizations for their yearly CE offerings.
Dental hygienist contracts will make your rights as an employee clear.
Imagine this scenario. First, you do a thorough job search, then you reply to a few interesting ads. You even have a couple of successful interviews. Eventually, you receive a job offer overseas and hear that a contract will soon follow.
How do you know if the contract will protect your employee rights?