Dental Hygiene a perfect career choice for working mom – Grad Q&A with Jessica Taylor
Jessica Taylor knew two things from an early age: she loved going to the dentist and she wanted a career that would allow her to bend work hours to spend quality time with her one-day family. Dental Hygienist was the profession she set for herself to meet these two interests, and her vision never wavered.
“I knew I wanted to have a family and be a working mom with flexibility,” says Jessica. “Growing up, I didn’t have perfect teeth and there was always a cavity I had to get filled. I had a fascination with teeth; plus, I loved my dentist and dental hygienist.”
Jessica graduated high school ready to act on her instincts. All she needed was to figure out how to best get there from her smattering of retail jobs.
What were your first steps?
I went to Jr. college to get my ‘prereqs’ needed to apply to SJVC’s Dental Hygiene program at the Visalia campus. I had applied to about five different Dental Hygiene programs in California, but all of the programs were either a lottery system or a first-come-first-serve basis. The demand was so high, I was wait-listed for 2-3 years. And the lottery system was not in my favor.
SJVC accepted me right away after my interview. They had a spot open so instead of waiting for the next round of lottery, I decided to move from Modesto to Visalia to enroll in the Dental Hygiene program.
What kind of support did you have waiting for you in Visalia?
I didn’t know anyone in Visalia! I just rented a room and moved in for the next 18-months. Class was Monday-Thursday, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM so I went home some weekends, but stayed in town a lot. Plus, I was working part-time on top of school, so there wasn’t much free time to worry about not knowing people.
I’d had been on my own since I was 18, so was already kind of independent. I kept in contact with my mother and father to let them know how school was going.
Was there a good support system in SJVC’s Dental Hygiene program?
I knew no one, but you quickly become family with your class. We all kind of leaned on each other at school. You study together, you cry together – you do it all.
The support and availability of the teachers was the best part of the program, for me. I feel like I got a great education because they went above-and-beyond. If I had any issues or needed extra attention with skills, they would accommodate you. They had a 100% Open Door policy.
Out of all the programs I applied to, SJVC was expensive. But I feel like I really got what I paid for.
Did the Dental Hygiene program match what you thought you were going to get?
I was prepared. I had done my research before applying here, so I knew what I was getting into. I felt like the orientation (SJVC) went over what we were going to be doing in class. They told us how intense it was going to be and connected us with previous grads who helped prepare us, too. I didn’t feel any shock factor.
I recommend any prospective student to job shadow in the field they are interested in. This will ensure that they know the daily ins-and-outs of the position and then, there will be no surprises.
Any surprises – something you did not expect?
When we took our licensure exam, I noticed that Dental Hygiene students from other schools didn’t have the support we had. Faculty came with us to our exams. It was so valuable to have them there as cheerleaders and see the support of a familiar face because it was a very stressful situation. They came all the way from Visalia to San Francisco for moral support that day – which was just amazing.
What was your greatest struggle?
It is highly recommended to not be working during the Dental Hygiene program, and they (SJVC) made that blatantly clear when I enrolled. But I had no financial support, so I had no choice. I had a lot of sleepless nights studying and you really do need that time to stop studying to rest and recuperate.
I worked 36-40 hours a week but kept my GPA above a 3.0. I averaged a 3.6 throughout the whole program. It’s doable, but you’re a zombie if you do it that way, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
My only social life was with coworkers or get-togethers for study groups with school peers. I had church activities and attended when I had free time. Those things kept me grounded. Now I can laugh, but back then I was a very tired person.
What motivated you to keep pushing?
I’ve always just had some intrinsic motivation to succeed. There were a lot of roadblocks along the way – working, trying to pay tuition, lack of sleep – but I never let anything stop me. I just kept going because I knew I wanted so badly to have this career.
Because I’d had this goal for so long – since I was a little girl – I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I went on to become the first college graduate in my family.
My father, Edward, instilled in my brother, James, and me to always finish our work first and play later. Each day when we would get home from school, we would need to complete our chores and our homework before we could go outside to play.
How has your Dental Hygiene career evolved in the 11-years since you completed the program?
Right after I graduated, I worked temporary or substitute positions, filling in on sick days and maternity leave while I found something permanent. It was actually a good way to get my foot in the door and sample different types of dentists’ specialties, personalities, and work ethics. I probably worked in 7-10 different offices with periodontists, pedodontics, and general practice. I got my name out there and started getting calls.
I’ve worked for Dr. Moran for 9-years as a Dental Hygienist and I’m really happy where I’m at. As a wife (husband-Brandon) and mother with two children in school (Liam-9 and Lorali-4) it’s been very flexible for me, and I don’t have to miss everything they’re involved in. It’s been a wonderful career for me.
What does your work-day entail?
With each patient it’s a little different. I do an oral health assessment, measuring gum tissue, pocket depths, checking for periodontal disease/health, which can range from single areas to whole mouth. I give instruction for home care, recommend frequency of visits and measure improvements. I also remove plaque and tartar buildup from above and below the gumline to allow for optimum gum tissue healing and health.
What we accomplish is a team effort between the patient and me. This will ultimately determine the outcome of their oral health. A lot lies in the balance. Oral health is an important gateway to the rest of our body.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I love what I do! I love working in private practice where I can get to know my patients and, sometimes, a whole family and generations. I get to see these people in the community, the grocery store, sporting events. I get to know them and their families and they get to know me and my family.
It’s been a wonderful career for me, and I am really happy where I’m at. I love what I do, and I get to help people improve their smiles.
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