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Corrie Jongbloed-Zoet, International Federation of Dental Hygienists

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Soon-to-be dental hygienists’ president Corrie Jongbloed-Zoet has been getting people to open up all her working life. Questions from Rob Spalding…

RS: During your career you’ve had to take orders as well as give them, isn’t that right?

CJ-Z: It is. Growing up in Zwolle, a rather conservative country town in the east of The Netherlands, it was half-expected that girls would just marry and have children. University was looked on as a waste of money and I was not good enough (or too young –17 when I finished secondary education) to follow my first love and study the Dutch language and literature or become a nurse (my second choice). But surprisingly, like my sister before me, I was accepted as a naval officer, with the emphasis on officer. After training and one miserable year directing vessels from an underground bunker, I was transferred to the Ministry of Defence in The Hague – as an admiral’s personal assistant. I had a wonderful time; met my future husband and when ‘my’ admiral retired, literally flew away to join KLM as cabin crew

RS: You left KLM to train as a dental hygienist. Was your stewardess smile wearing thin?

CJ-Z: Yes and no. I felt I had to look for a ‘real’ job after five years of flying. By chance, I was introduced to a dental hygienist and, not having very sound teeth myself, realised all those crowns and fillings in my mouth could have been prevented! Though I was surprised by the two years of full-time education, I went back to school with my savings and a scholarship.     

RS: You ended up as president of the Dutch Dental Hygienists Association – twice!

CJ-Z: After 10 years as a dental hygienist I wanted a change. I stood for president and was elected from three candidates at the general assembly. To be honest, I don’t know why. Maybe because I had always pleaded for more independence for the dental hygienist, or for a longer education with internships. Anyway, after four years’ hard work we succeeded on both counts.

The second time was by coincidence. After his retirement my husband was offered a job in Suriname. I was expected to follow him and was ready to do so. I even resigned my position as a director of a DH School and packed my bags, seeing myself working with the local youth in the jungle. Sadly, we never left… The job fell through and I was left unemployed. Thankfully, the Dutch association was having trouble finding a new president. I was approached to fill the post temporarily for a year or two and managed to stay for over five. And enjoyed it!

RS: What made you choose the career you did?

CJ-Z: In fact I did not choose my career, it more or less chose me. I made choices without having ‘a career plan’ and one job just followed another.

I pretty much became ‘an adult’ in the first part of my career. Later on, having a family fitted very well with working in a practice and being president of an association. As my children grew up, I found time to study again – and became a lecturer. And from that, a manager of a DH school, president of the association again, went ‘European’ and finally arrived at the IFDH.

RS: Do you have regrets about your early life choices?

CJ-Z: I learned many things during my time in the Navy and with KLM: how to adjust, to liaise, to find my way in new and unknown circumstances, to become independent, not to give up. And then fighting resistance to change, growth and emancipation. I have worked with many bodies and learned how to reconcile the differences between them. Many of those differences stem from personal interest, financial gain or just plain ego.

RS: You must have healed many schisms within the DHA in your time. What’s the secret?

CJ-Z: The key to success for any organisation lies in the word ‘together’. Common goals, common interests, common attitudes, with the willingness to grow, to build, to develop, is the way forward. Leading, without losing employees or board members, towards a common goal by staying just one step ahead, is not easy. The same probably applies to congresses: they have to appeal to the diverse needs of unrelated participants, while at the same time remaining new, innovative and challenging.     

RS: You are now president elect. What will be your first job when you become president in 2019? 

CJ-Z: Implement many of the changes that have happened during my three years as VP: the legal aspects of being established in the USA and adapting to new rules and regulations. We have to implement a ‘Social Responsibility Programme’, prepare for the Social Responsibility Conference in Florence in 2017 and the next International Symposium in Seoul, Korea in 2019. All this is done as a team, with an executive director and a staff in Washington DC. Then I hope to expand the Federation with new members, increase associated membership from 85,000 to 100,000 dental hygienists, introduce more education by establishing DH Schools around the world, promote oral health and prevent oral diseases and introduce a common professional profile and training framework for Europe and the world, etc…

RS: When will you know you’re done enough and it’s time to slow down?

CJ-Z: As long as I like what I do, as long as I am healthy and have the energy, as long as there are so many children, adults and elderly who suffer from poor oral health, as long as governments and policymakers do not see the benefits of good oral health, I think I will continue …

RS: What would you like people to say of you?

CJ-Z: She knew how to connect people and parties, she never gave up and she accomplished a lot. Maybe, even ‘she was a nice person’. Sadly, I am afraid there are a few people who do not like me at all!