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Features / June 19, 2023

Wellbeing – living for a future self

by Siobhan Kelleher


Dental hygienist and coach, Siobhan Kelleher, speaks to hygienist and wellbeing advocate, Bernie Ffrench, about disability, wellbeing and the importance of protecting your future.

Siobhan Kelleher (SK): Tell us about your career pathway.

Bernie Ffrench (BF): Like most things in life, we are often guided to choose a career path that we feel excited about and focused on. 

I loved helping people from an early age in our local Order of Malta unit. I began my career with a certificate in dental nursing. This led to my diploma in dental hygiene, all while also living with an invisible disability. It started to get in the way of my work life, so I tried to secure my dental future. 

I was a hygienist at an implant and periodontal practice. I ended up training as an acupuncturist after finding it a wonderful treatment for my condition. At that time, I noticed that it was also helping me manage dental patients and the musculoskeletal and stressors in my dental career. 

During my career, I was often told I cared too much for my patients. That came to be true, as I put my self-care in second place. 

The real-life impact led to me retiring from clinical life and feeling like a wrecked, broken car without a place in dentistry anymore. I was watching other colleagues’ careers pass mine. I was not able to drive myself or my career after the initial fallout, but my strength came back, and I fought hard and adapted to a new path in dentistry.

SK: Why did you study wellbeing and psychology?

BF: The inclusion and narrative of wellbeing in the workplace was not there when I was going through my dental hygiene career. A future self-consciously absorbing positive thoughts and practices was a better approach to living as my authentic self and helped me to show up with a positive identity and purpose.

SK: What are three messages you would like to share? 

BF: I would say:

  • Know who you are showing up as, in identity and purpose, in the various areas of your life 
  • Challenge your thoughts, do not believe them 
  • Know your values and check in to see if your behaviour is in alignment with them.

SK: What advice would you give your younger self starting out? 

BF: Live for a future self. Protect that future with good self-care and income protection, and have options for a non-clinical career. 

Stay true to yourself, stay connected with the dental hygiene community to best support your identity and purpose, stay fresh and updated with CPD events.  

Most importantly, have fun. 

SK: You have recently held the online event, National Workplace Wellbeing Day. Why did you organise this wellbeing event? 

BF: To honour my purpose and share what I have learned. If I can help one person with this event, then I honour those to whom I dedicate it: my twin Jackie and husband Mike who have helped me through my clinical and non-clinical life, and my friends and colleagues in the profession who have retired or passed away. 

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