Dental Hygienist sets fears aside to reach career goal
Darya Harrington knows how it feels to start something new and have doubts abut fitting in and succeeding. She and her mom, Natalya, and her older brother, Nikolay, came to the U.S. from Russia when she was only 5-years old. She started first grade unable to speak English.
“I was excited to be here, but it was difficult to make friends,” she says. “I picked English up pretty quickly and one teacher’s aide spoke Russian.” Darya set a lifelong pattern of survival: dive in, learn to swim, float above the turmoil.
Darya was feeling the flashback to throwing herself into something new when at 20-years old, she decided to make her move from the front desk of a dental office to the back-office professionalism of a dental hygienist. She had spent a couple of years taking prerequisite courses and with her, now-husband, Alex’s encouragement, she was ready to be the ‘new kid’ again.
They were living in the mountains of Mariposa where Alex was a hardworking fire fighter, and Dental Hygiene education programs were not offered for miles around. Big relocation decisions and bigger sacrifices where ahead if her career dream was to become a reality.
“Fresno was going to be a long wait (for Dental Hygiene programs to start),” says Darya of the closest college. “We are the kind of people who when we make a decision, we don’t want to wait. So, we started looking at programs online and found SJVC.” Darya and Alex toured the Visalia campus, assessed the DH program’s strengths and outcomes, and decided it was a good match. Over several days they waited for the successful transfer of course credits and other criteria to be satisfied.
“When I got the call I was accepted, we just started driving down south to check out Visalia,” says Darya. “We pulled the trigger on an apartment because I knew this was going to be it for us.” The air was filled with optimism for the future they dreamed of sharing. They made the move just before classes started.
“The first day of the (Dental Hygiene) program, it hits you,” says Darya. “It was a lot to take in. It was an accelerated program, so there is no time to waste. We went through so much the first day; I can’t even remember it.”
When things got stressful, Darya was ready with the thought that always brought a measure of calm. “It was exciting to know that when I was twenty-two, I was going to have my full-time career. That excited me and just kind of pushed me through everything.”
Darya had already wrestled with her career doubts during the two years she took prerequisites for the DH program. “I was looking at two years of prereqs then two years of a dental hygiene program and had to ask myself, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ Alex kept pushing me, encouraging me to finish; he kept me on my path. But as soon as I got into the DH program it was like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Her ride through the tunnel brought some immediate rewards. “Darya is a beautiful, sweet soul who relocated to be in our Dental Hygiene program,” says Brenda Serpa, Dental Hygiene Program Director. “She was also our Golden Scaler Award winner.”
“I think that SJVC really prepared us for the real world,” says Darya. “Instructors were always checking your work and giving you feedback. I really thrive off that because sometimes I can be unsure of myself.”
Darya’s greatest struggle was outside the classroom. “As a fire fighter my husband was always gone but tried to be there for me as much as he could be. During my last year in the program he actually got promoted to Engineer for California Fire Department, which meant he had to go through a 12-week program up north, six hours away. He was commuting home on weekends to be with me.”
It was difficult to be alone so much of the time, but Darya drew inspiration from both Natalya and Alex.
“My mom is like my best friend,” she says. Darya remembers their early years of struggle. “I’ve never seen her down, even when things around her are crazy and she is struggling financially or emotionally. She always persevered, working two, sometimes three jobs until she finally got her career and owns her own (beauty) salon now.” Darya has a close relationship with both her mom and stepdad, Marc.
Alex has many qualities that drew Darya to him. “It was his work ethic and that he is so kind to everybody and makes them feel so welcome. I want to be as hardworking as both of them.”
Darya’s own hard work won her both the Golden Scaler Award and a scholarship she can use toward future education or professional licensure. “My graduation day was the best moment,” she says. “Not only did I complete the program, but I got a couple of awards that I really, really wanted. I was shocked that my instructors saw that in me and nominated me for those awards.”
Darya graduated from Visalia’s Dental Hygiene program in February 2020 and she and Alex moved back to Mariposa where they have resumed their idyllic life in the mountains. They bought a horse, Penny, that Darya loves to ride and groom.
She is working for three local dental offices where she applies all that she has learned toward direct patient care. “I assist the doctor with patient exams, check gum tissue and determine treatment for what the exam indicates,” she explains. “I do general cleaning and deep cleaning, usually 2-hours for two quadrants (half the mouth). For deep cleaning, I might give a local anesthesia for the patient to feel more comfortable.”
CoVid-19 has increased safety measures for patient treatment. “We practice infection control and minimized risk in our offices,” says Darya. “We’ve always worn masks, gloves and gowns, but we now wear face shields also. Some patients are a little worried about getting treatments but putting their oral health on the back burner is not healthy either. We are trying our best to let patients know that they are safe with us.”
Darya thinks back fondly to her SJVC days. “In the real world the doctor doesn’t come and check your work, so you have to be really confident,” she laughs. “In school we only saw one patient a day and at work we might see seven or eight.” Now she enjoys taking the time to really get to know her patients. “Everyone is so different. Their sensitivity levels, personalities, homelife.” Long-term relationships are being built.
She would also like to build a few more relationships at home. “My whole dream is to have kids because Dental Hygiene would be a good career for that,” says Darya. “It’s a stable income for the amount of time you work and with kids, working 3-days a week would be perfect.”
Looking even farther ahead, Darya is conjuring another vision. “When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a teacher. I felt I could explain things is a way that people could understand. I really like Dental Hygiene, so that would be nice to work in my field as an instructor. I would really love that.”
No one doubts she will get there.
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