Dental Assistant vowed to take the fear out of going to the dentist
Annie Tiger was one of those kids who was so scared of the dentist that she cried all the way to his office each time she had an appointment. But it was more than the ‘white coat syndrome’ that incites fear in some when they see any medical professional in uniform. “He (dentist) drugged us up, strapped us into chairs and sometimes put his hands over our mouths, almost like suffocating us,” remembers Annie. Her family eventually switched dentists and her chair experience changed dramatically. Annie was inspired by a Dental Assistant (DA) who showed her kindness and understanding. It changed her perspective completely. “She was the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be part of that change full-time of helping kids that were treated bad, to be treated really nice.”
Many dental care professionals enter the field because they had extensive dental work or braces as a child, or they knew someone happy in their position who highly recommended a dental career. Annie’s inspiration may have come from a desire to treat others how she felt they should be treated, but career as a Dental Assistant broadened as she stretched higher in her knowledge and expertise. “I always wanted to be that one who went for extra training.” She began her DA career in general dentistry, then moved to oral surgery. “I always felt like the more information I knew, the more vital I would be in dentistry.”
It was always in her mind to share her education and accomplishments with others in a teaching environment. “I wanted to work with someone reputable, with a good standing in the community. SJVC has been around for a long time and has a good history of putting well-trained students out in the field.” She has been a Dental Assisting program faculty member on the Fresno campus for almost two years now.
What is one of the most important things your Dental Assisting students should know about SJVC’s program?
We’re not trying to push them through this program. It’s not a race to the finish line; it’s a jog. We work on quality first, then speed comes over time. I let them know it’s ok to make mistakes – I want them to make those mistakes so that they can learn and turn them around. I remind them that they didn’t come in as a Dental Assistant, but we expect them to become a Dental Assistant.
How does that transition from student to professional happen?
We constantly give them hands-on training. The more time they have with hands-on experience the better their skills and the more comfortable they feel about getting out into the field. And I do share so much of my life experience that will help them in their career. I try to give examples of everything I’ve gone through in the field, no sugar-coating, to better prepare them. I feel that I can be that (career professional) role model for them. When they see the final product of what they’ve learned, they’re pretty shocked that they could accomplish that. They exceed their expectations.
What kind of support are Dental Assisting program students given?
One of the most important things students can take away from this program is that we’re here for them. They can be pretty hard on themselves sometimes and maybe wanting to give up. I tell them to sit back and remember why they are doing this. Are they wanting to make a better life for their kids, their family? I had been that crazy mom, too, with three kids under the age of four. I have to remember what was in my mind when I was going through it.
Every once in a while, I get a ‘thank you’ note from one of those (previously struggling) students who is working, has their own place and just wanted me to know how they’re doing, what they’ve done with what they learned.
How does the DA program’s 6-week externship (on the job experience) in professional dental offices work?
As Dental Assisting students are on externship they’re still coming back to school, learning and practicing in class. At their extern sites they’re not hanging back; they’re getting in there and doing those procedures that give them great hands-on skills. They bring confidence that comes with the reassurance that the dental office is there to work with them to help them become the best dental assistant they can become.
How does SJVC’s Dental Assisting program work with the Fresno-Madera Dental Society to place students in working dental offices for that practical, hands-on experience?
We all (dental care/health providers and dental education and training programs) belong to the same organization, the Fresno-Madera Dental Society. Even in the big world of dentistry, the field is small enough to hear word-of-mouth about how our students are doing. It is good to know that we have doctors (dental offices) calling us right now asking if they can have more DA student externs – even before we have more externs to send out. That’s because of the quality of students we are putting out into the field. They want that student who is willing to get in there and try to do that procedure to get even more hands-on skills – not those who hang in the background. They want that DA student with that higher level of confidence. That’s why they come to us (SJVC).
What keeps the Dental Assisting program so popular?
This field is never going to be the same as it was yesterday. There’s always going to be new technology, equipment, environment…patients. You have to adjust to the environment and keep up with the times. SJVC’s DA program stays at the forefront of an ever-progressing industry.
What excites you about what you give your Dental Assisting students?
Just seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they learn something new. From Day One they accomplish something, and they are so excited to have something they can take home and show their family. And then, at the end (graduation), when they have that same big grin like they’re right back on the first day of class. “Look, I made it!” Or I see one of them in their scrubs at a work convention. Sometimes I see them working in the (dental) field and their big smiles.
It’s a good feeling to know I helped them get there. They may be done with school, but we’re here for them long after they’ve left us.
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