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International Dental Hygienist: Raquel Cofield RDH, RN

Learn about this traveling hygienist who is originally from Virginia, USA, but now works in West Africa.

Where are you originally from?

I am originally from Virginia in the United States of America.

Have you always worked in the dental field? If not, what other fields? Any other degrees acquired before turning to hygiene?

No, but I’ve always had a passion for healthcare and serving others. In addition to working as a registered dental hygienist for 29 years, I also obtained a bachelors of science in Nursing in 2005.

What country do you work abroad in? From which years?

I currently work in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa. I have lived and worked in Ghana for over a year.

Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana

What inspired you to move abroad?

I would have to say that my daughter inspired me to live and work abroad. She is a diplomat and has traveled and worked abroad since she was 20 years old. Watching her follow her dreams gave me the courage to follow my own. I also believed my skill and years of experience as a dental hygienist, manager and nurse would be a great asset to structuring a dental hygiene department for my clinic in Ghana.

What did your family say?

The majority of my family was very supportive and excited for me to pursue this opportunity, but they were also concerned that I was moving to another country without family or friends.

Were you afraid of making such a move?

Honestly, I was not afraid because the practice in Ghana made sure to answer or address my questions/concerns before I arrived.

Beautiful beach in Ghana: Sajuna Beach Club, Asuogyaman-Atimpoku Road

What is this region known for?

Accra is the capital and the largest city in Ghana. It is known for its beaches, food, traditional markets, museums and lively nightlife. The most widely spoken language in Ghana is Twi, but the majority of Ghanaians also speak English. Ghana is known for its gold, cocoa plants and its rich, deep history of the transatlantic slave trade. In the Cape Coast, there is the “door of no return” which was the last place where millions of enslaved Africans were forced onto slave ships bound for the United States, never to return home.

What practice do you work for, which specialty, and what is the makeup of the team?

I work for a general private practice. Our team consist of an endodontist, orthodontist and periodontist from India, an oral surgeon from Ghana, two American and one Ghanaian dental hygienist, a lab technician from Zimbabwe, two dental assistants from South Africa and four Ghanaian dental assistants and four Ghanaian front desk representatives. We have a brand-new facility with state-of-the-art equipment and technology.

What is your social life like?

Accra has a lively nightlife. My job requires a forty-hour work week, which includes Saturdays, so I typically use our holiday and weekends to explore Ghana and other parts of the world. Accra is a great place for food, music and art, with plenty of expats and friendly locals to mingle with.

What do you most enjoy?

I enjoy the people of Ghana, everyone is very kind and welcoming. I also really enjoy living so close to the ocean. The food is amazing and there is always something going on, so I’m never bored. Least enjoy?  I really miss my family and friends the most. Driving in Ghana can also be a challenge, so, although I have finally adapted after a year on my own, I still have to be very aware of my surroundings.

Street festival in Ghana

What are the patients like? Any exceptional experiences? Good or bad?

The patients are very open to learning, most patients have not been exposed to a dental hygienist or how we practice. So, I usually spend time with my patients discussing the role of a dental hygienist and the differences between a dentist and dental hygienist. We have up – to – date and advanced technology in our office, which allows me to practice and educate our patients just like I would in the US. I have been told I have an American accent, and I am hard to understand sometimes, so I have worked to slow down my speech and be more aware of how I am talking to patients.

How has the experience changed you as a person? Professionally? Personally?

This experience has been both equally amazing and challenging. I have learned to be more patient, and I have a greater appreciation for other people’s culture, language, and adapting to learning and doing things a little differently. I am a very punctual, structured person, but time is very fluid in Ghana, so I’ve learned that adapting and flexibility are essential to living in Ghana.

Do you still practice hygiene? Why or why not? Any plans to leave hygiene?

Yes, I still practice in Ghana 40 hours per week. I love being a dental hygienist and I know that I will always be involved in the dental profession in some way, shape, or form.

Do you have any other projects or businesses on the side?

Currently, I have a community outreach project in eastern Ghana. I have partnered with community outreach nurses and midwives in local communities to teach them basic oral health education that they can provide to their patients – especially pregnant women, children, infants, diabetic patients, and caregivers – during home visits and community visits.

What did you (or will you) do to move on with your life?

I am not sure what the future holds for my journey, but I am open to whatever place or community feels right and provides a good mental and physical fit for me.

Raquel Cofield

Do you have any regrets?

None at all. This opportunity came along at the right time in my life and has opened the door to so many exciting opportunities I didn’t even know existed. I have met many amazing people that I would have never encountered if I had not moved to Ghana.

How would you like to be remembered?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I never really focus on myself. However, I hope I am remembered for making even a small difference in the lives of people that I have met along this journey.

Any wisdom you would like to pass on to future internationally practicing hygienists?

If exciting opportunities come your way, and it’s out of your comfort zone: take chances, be brave, and enjoy the journey.

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