Photo by Ryan Whitefield
Brenda Walker (’71 DH) changed the face of dental hygiene across Alberta. She was a major driving force behind making dental hygiene a self-regulating profession.
She lobbied the government to remove the requirement for dental hygienists to be supervised by a dentist. In 2006, this change occurred, and hygienists could now practice in a variety of settings including long-term care facilities and establishing stand-alone dental hygiene practices – improving access to oral health care to vulnerable and underserved populations.
While a major driving force behind changing the fate of dental hygiene in Alberta and as the first registrar of the College of Registered Dental Hygienists of Alberta (CRDHA), Walker is quick to mention she didn’t do it alone.
“I had many role models. Margaret Berry MacLean, Marilyn Mabey, and Joanne Clovis encouraged me as a new graduate to be involved in the profession,” she says. “When I was a student at the university, the faculty in the dental hygiene program were such amazing mentors. They were the ones that pulled me into the dental hygiene association and college. They instilled that desire in me to be a part of your profession and to make a difference.”
The impact and presence Walker created in dental hygiene can’t go unrecognized. On September 24, Walker will receive the 2018 Alumni Honour Award from the University of Alberta.
“It’s never one person that accomplishes things alone,” says Walker. “I’ve had an impactful journey. I have great appreciation for all the members that worked so hard to help make these things happen. Their dedication and trust that we were doing the right thing was very important.”
Walker taught in the dental hygiene program at the university for 16 years as a sessional clinical instructor. For Walker something else that was a long-time coming was the change from the two-year diploma program to the degree. She helped lobby the University of Alberta to implement a dental hygiene degree completion program in 2000 giving students the option of either completing a diploma or degree. With many students choosing to complete the degree option, Walker and the CRDHA continued to encourage removal of the diploma program and in 2017, the university welcomed its first cohort of degree-only students.
“I’m very happy to have the CRDHA lend its support to the dental hygiene program,” says Walker. “It was an honour for the college to support both the dental hygiene bachelor and master degree programs and be in a position to establish student awards and scholarships at the university.”
Along with many other firsts, Walker helped establish the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board, which administers the critical exam required to register as a dental hygienist.
But all of these trailblazing advancements in dental hygiene could have ended differently had Walker not met a dentist in her hometown of Brooks.
“I was in Grade 10 at the time and I would babysit his children. He asked me what I planned to do after high school and I said I was planning on applying to education,” she says. “He asked me if I had ever considered dental hygiene and I told him I had never heard of hygienists.”