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Registered Traveling Hygienist: Casey L. Thornton, BS, RDH

Get to know a traveling hygienist who has been to an unimaginable amount of countries and is a professional photographer!

Casey is a registered traveling hygienist who worked in Germany for two memorable years, 2017-2019. She has also traveled to over 30 countries!

Casey works with hygienists to help them find work overseas and become a registered traveling hygienist like herself. Her company is RDH International.

Where are you originally from?

Seattle, WA

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

I started in sales and quickly moved into healthcare. I previously worked in a multi-care facility for 4 years and then an ER department before starting hygiene school.

Seattle Photo by  Chait Goli  from  Pexels
What country did you or do you work abroad in? From which years?

Germany for two memorable years, 2017-2019

What inspired you to move abroad?

Traveling is one of my greatest passions, and I had always dreamed of living in different countries for periods of time. After backpacking for months in SE Asia and visiting Canada, Mexico, and Croatia, it was time to explore Europe.

What did your family say?

They were nervous when I went backpacking in SE Asia, but when I told them I was moving to Europe, they felt more comfortable because some trust had been previously developed.

They understood my passion and were supportive but sad to see me leave.

Were you afraid?

Not at all. I am fortunate in many ways, one of them being that I do have a wonderful support system and the comfort of knowing I can always just come home.

What is/was that region known for?

Rheinland-Pfalz is known for wine and farmland! There is also a large American Military community, which made communication fairly easy.

What practice did you work for, and in which specialty? The makeup of the staff, etc.?

I worked for Ramstein Dental care which is a family dental practice. We were not on the military base but very close by. We accepted Tricare (military insurance) so our patient base was military dependents.

What is/was your social life like?

I arrived at the end of September so my first weekend was the great Oktoberfest!

I am a social person so I connected with some travelers through friends from back home and met up with them at the festival. After that, most people in the area seemed to go into hibernation.

I did struggle with loneliness for a few months. I had friends at work but we did not really get together outside of that. I did have a roommate and a couple of people from home came to visit me.

Around March people started to go out to the local bars, which I lived a block away from. This is when I started to make new friends and within two months, met my now husband!

Oktoberfest Photo by  Manuel Joseph  from  Pexels
What did you most enjoy? Least enjoy? Why?

I will start with what I least enjoyed. Previously, I mentioned that there were a few lonely months. I had always been a social person seeing friends and family on a daily basis and had been in a relationship since middle school.

This was the first time in my life I knew absolutely no one.

Even though this was challenging, I knew I did not want to leave. Instead, I focused on the time with myself that I never had before and may never have again. This was incredibly valuable.

I took baths, I did yoga, I started a blog and I cooked. The loneliness was not enjoyable but what came out of it was.

What I enjoyed the most is a challenging question. I could go to at least one new country every month that I lived there, totaling 31 countries! I met the love of my life and married him! I grew as a person and a registered travel dental hygienist in unbelievable ways! Those are my top three, but there are so many more aspects I enjoyed.

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

Since I mostly saw military family members, most patients were respectful and thankful. There was a decent amount of SRP patients with some VERY tenacious calculus.

Before working at Ramstein Dental Care, I had been a full time temp. This gave me the opportunity to form relationships with my patients and follow up with them, which was a wonderful experience.

How did the experience change you as a person? Professionally? Personally?

In SO many ways. Professionally, it taught me to see hygiene as a career rather than a job. It taught me to slow down and take my time. I really grew as a hygienist and as a team member.

Personally, I became so much more comfortable with myself. I learned to enjoy my time alone and for self-care. I listen more and talk less, although I am still a talkative person!

I saw so much beauty in the world and in different cultures so my passion for travel continued to grow.

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

I moved back to Seattle because my now husband had to leave Germany. He was in Germany because he was on active duty with the Air Force. He was medically retired and asked if I would leave with him. I brought him back to Seattle so we could be close to my family.

The transition out of the military has taken longer than I ever expected, especially now with COVID-19. We bought a house and planned a wedding since we were married at the courthouse in Ramstein. Because of this, I have had to continue working clinical to provide for us financially.

I will always want to keep my clinical skills and practice minimal. I am pursuing my passion to start my own business helping other hygienists work abroad and look forward to when that is my full time career.

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

My dream would be to have a successful business. My primary goal is to have a family, travel/and or live abroad again, while providing financially.

Do you have any regrets?

I should have gone hang-gliding in Switzerland! I decided to save the money because I knew we were moving. To me, the experience is always worth it! Money will come and go!

Hang gliding
How would you like to be remembered?

I would be honored if I inspired other hygienists to have unforgettable experiences. Leave your comfort zone, meet new people and try new things. Share stories and be brave!

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

If you feel the inspiration, the push in your soul to move abroad and share your skills with other cultures that need you, take the leap!!!

After you take the leap, take it day by day. Everything will get done. You will find what you need and so much more. You are smart and capable.

Casey is a registered travel dental hygienist who works with hygienists to help them find work overseas. Her company is RDH International. You can reach out to her at ca*****@ya***.com.

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