Toni Massey is a traveling hygienist in our spotlight who got the opportunity to work in Australia and loved it. She currently works in Germany. Learn about her experience, including passing the Australian dental hygiene boards.
Where are you originally from?
Which school did you graduate from and when?
I attended Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in California, class of 1999.
Have you always worked in the dental field? If not, what other fields? Any other degrees acquired before turning to hygiene?
I started out working as a Child Life Aide at Loma Linda University Hospital, working with pediatric oncology patients. When my heart couldn’t take it anymore I decided to go to school. I was an RDA for 2 years before deciding to pursue Hygiene.
What country did you or do you work abroad in? From which years?
I worked in Australia for 5 years as an assistant first and then I took the Australian Boards and got my Hygiene license. From 2012-2017 Alice Springs, Northern Territory.
What inspired you to move abroad?
My husband accepted a job in Australia and once we decided to stay a while, I did the Hygiene route.
What did your family say?
My parents were very supportive, they knew I loved to travel and thought it would be a great experience for the whole family.
Were you afraid?
The company sends you a briefing packet to familiarize yourself with what you are getting into. I quickly learned I was prepared for what I thought we were getting into!
My biggest fear was of the deadly snakes, I thought they’d be waiting for me on my doorstep. Every night I would pull my bed covering back to make sure nothing was waiting for me.
What is/was that region known for?
What practice did you work for and in which specialty? Makeup of staff, etc?
I first worked for the Government as an RDA and then as a hygienist. I worked for Alice Springs Dental Surgery/ General Dentistry.
The practice had 3 dentist and they had never worked with a full time RDH or one that did anything but prophys. Needless to say, there was a plethora of Perio! Financially speaking, they were astonished at what a hygienist could bring to a practice!
The other hygienist brought in 40,000 to the practice in a year, working 2 days a week. I started working 5 days and was bringing in 35k to 40k a month! They were very happy and treated me extremely well, I miss living and working there.
What is/was your social life like?
It’s a small community in the middle of Australia. You get to know people very quickly. We had a lot of American friends and Australian friends. We would go to parties at each others houses, go for dinner and drinks on the town and go to the casino. We camped a lot and hopped on planes and traveled.
What did you most enjoy? Least enjoy? Why?
I most enjoyed the small town life, the kids could walk or ride their bikes all over the place. We could go hiking and see kangaroos in the morning or evening and hang out for a ‘barbie’ all day. Very relaxed atmosphere.
I least enjoyed how far away the next big city was. Driving to Adelaide would take us 14 hours. Much easier to get on a plane but much more expensive. Driving was cool because of all the neat small towns or stations that you stopped at for fuel or rest.
What were the patients like? Any exceptional experiences? Good or bad?
My patients were some of the most humble, genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I had a few patients that were uber-wealthy and would come in in old dirty work clothes and boots and were so kind. You’d never know they were wealthy because they didn’t try to show it.
Like I stated before, lots of undiagnosed or under-diagnosed perio. So with education and treatment, it would make a huge difference. The wonderful thing was that very few people refused treatment!
I would lay out what was necessary, show them all my findings and very few would ever question what was needed. They trusted me and so did the dentists. It was the best!
How did the experience change you as a person? Professionally? Personally?
It made me realize how living outside the USA can be so wonderful! I really thought I would miss home but I realized that I had a new place that friends could come visit and expand their travels for cheap!
Professionally I was challenged by the severity of the cases I was handling. In the town, there were two dental offices and for someone to go to a specialist would mean a plane ride and all the costs associated with it. Three to four times a year, a perio specialist would come out and do surgeries and I managed everything else in between.
I am very proud of the way the patients took the education given to them and improved their health. Most of them jumped on board using Tepe interdental cleaners and their tissues looked fabulous! I learned I’m not as afraid of snakes and spiders as I thought I was.
One night I was driving and I felt something crawling on my leg, I brushed it off and it felt huge. I pulled into my drive and jumped out and here comes a huge bird eating spider out of my SUV!! (please google “bird eating spider” LOL!)
Do you still practice hygiene? Why or why not? Any plans to leave hygiene?
I am still practicing but no longer in Australia; we have moved on to Germany. No plans to leave Hygiene anytime soon. I have MS but I am still in good health and I continue to pray that God will allow me to practice for at least 15 more years.
Do you have any other projects or businesses on the side?
What did you (or will you) do to move on with your life?
Right now we are planning where we are going to retire, in either Spain or Idaho.
Do you have any regrets?
I lost both my parents in the last 2 years. I wish I would have been home more often. And I am missing seeing my grandson grow up, but we still have young kids we are raising too.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would be most honored if people remembered me as being generous. Being known as never meeting a human or animal that didn’t instantly become my friend. As loving to talk to anyone – whether I know you or not – and spreading God’s love.
Any wisdom you would like to pass on to future internationally practicing hygienists?
Take the time to learn the culture, learn the language and don’t be THAT AMERICAN! Have fun and be respectful.