Dental Assisting career changes a young woman’s life dynamic
Major life events pushed Ashley Swanson toward a career as a Dental Assistant. She did not go to the dentist until she was 15-years old, and by that time extensive dental work was needed. “I had to have surgery on my teeth because I had two extra teeth behind my front teeth that had to be removed, I had decayed teeth and my gums were so unhealthy they bled, so I couldn’t use floss,” she remembers.
Ashley married her high school boyfriend and they had three children within 5 years. It was an abusive relationship that flashed back to her own upbringing in a chaotic family environment. Ashley endured 11-years of an unstable and abusive marriage before she took her children to stay with their grandmother, while she lived in her sister’s RV. “I took the kids, got out and never looked back.” For the next 6-months she balanced several part-time jobs to stay afloat. “I was taking whatever I could get to live; restaurant server, customer service, department store sales, anything.”
One day she had a flat tire and called an acquaintance for help. Josh, she found out later, had been trying to get his courage to ask her out and welcomed the chance to be there for her during a crisis. “My mind was on getting through my divorce and getting kids situated, and I didn’t see what was right in front of me,” Ashley remembers. Her world was about to find a steadiness and calm she had never known before.
Over the next several months, love blossomed and created a new family of six: Ashley, Josh and their combined five children. It also opened the space for Ashley to ask herself an important question: What did she really want to do in a career that she might enjoy and would contribute to their family’s financial security.
How did you make the leap from barely surviving to focusing on a career as a Dental Assistant?
I knew that I was getting older and needed to set myself in a profession. Josh asked me what I was really interested in and that made me start thinking about teeth. I’d always paid attention to little things when I’d take the kids to the dentist and could tell the DA (Dental Assistant) which teeth were missing (by number). They asked me if I’d ever gone to school for it.
My teeth were messed up and I wore braces for 3-years, until I was eighteen. They hadn’t been adjusted and needed to come off, but my Dad lost his (dental) insurance. So, he helped me take them off, myself. I just popped them off with a spoon and pliers and used a file to get the glue off. He took off the back bracket.
I have such a big background with teeth, I started thinking seriously about becoming a Dental Assistant.
What drew you to SJVC’s Dental Assisting program in Bakersfield?
I’d paid attention to the dental field forever, so I started going through it (research) and it all started clicking. I also had a friend go to SJVC’s dental program, and when I knew I wanted to go into dentistry she said, ‘Go to SJVC!’ I talked to a recruiter there and I felt more excitement, like ‘this is it’. This is what I want to do, and this is where I want to go.
What was one of the best things about the DA program?
My instructors just made it fun every day. They explained everything in ways that were easy for everybody to understand. They were available at all times – even gave us their cell phone numbers. If I had any questions, they were answered.
My instructors told me that I should become a Dental Hygienist because I have all the qualities to be a hygienist. I feel like I was one of the ones they wanted to push the most to go higher because they knew I was capable of that.
What were some of your favorite moments?
My instructors would ask me to help other students. Those little moments made me feel like I’m in the right profession.
Or, when my 9-year-old was standing by my computer, checking my grades and there were As all the way down the page. “This is what I want your schoolwork to be,” I told him. If it’s not important to me, how can I expect it to be important to them?
What was the hard part?
There were times I was just so tired of everything in life hitting me. There were five kids and me juggling online classes (pandemic distance learning) and time was not in my favor. Every day I felt like I was running a race.
But I think that my mind was set whenever I went into this. I’m going to do this completely and I didn’t care what it took or how many sleepless nights I got; I was going to do what I was supposed to do when I was supposed to do it. Josh was my biggest fan and would stay up all night with me. And, when I wanted to give it up, he would say, ‘No, you’re a bad-ass!’
What advice do you have for others who are hanging back from making a commitment to a career and the education it would take to get there?
It’s an individual thing and whatever someone sets their mind to. When I was in cosmetology (school), I was 21-years old and just had a baby. It just wasn’t my time or my profession. I feel like this (Dental Assisting) was my profession. This is what was made for me.
What was it like to work in a dental office during your DA program’s externship (on-the-job-experience)?
During my externship (6-weeks of on-the-job training in a dental practice) I was told so many times that I have a ‘poker face’. Someone would ask, ‘Ashley, do you want to do this (procedure)?’, and I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll do that.’ I always have a face of confidence but scared to death inside.
My hand always shoots up to volunteer. They (employers) like that. No matter what, I’m willing to jump in and do whatever I need to do to get the job done.
Now that you’ve completed your DA program and have started your first job as a Dental Assistant, what is it like to have reached your career goal?
I feel like my education was, without a doubt, one hundred percent why I’m able to do what I’m doing.
I’m getting the schedule for when I can take the RDA (Registered Dental Assistant) exam. But I’m already a Dental Assistant and will now get the feel for what it’s like to work in a dental office. I’m not one to sit back, so I’ll follow this out for a couple of years. Right now, I’m talking with Hygienists that come into my office.
It feels amazing to wake up and have a purpose, to go to work and do what you love. My favorite part of my workday is my work family. They all treat me very well and they always make sure to have my back and keep me going.
How do you feel about what you have accomplished for yourself and your family?
In school everybody wrote these big paragraphs about their reason for why they keep going (in their program) and all I could think to write was, ‘Because my babies ae watching me’. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life…addiction, death…and situations my parents tried hard to overcome. And no matter how young they are, my kids are watching me and I’m setting an example.
I want my kids to see me living and succeeding. This is important to me and I want it to be important to them.
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