From Dental Assisting student to faculty member: education, career and life lessons benefit Dental Assisting program students
SJVC’s Dental Assisting (DA) program’s 265-hours student externship is a powerful tool that gives those about to graduate a close-up, hands-on experience in a working office of the profession they have chosen. No one knows that better than Elsi Garcia, who is a DA faculty member on SJVC’s Temecula campus and previous graduate from their Dental Assisting program. She shares important insights with her students.
“You don’t really know what you’re getting into until you are in the dental office, working in mouths with saliva and, sometimes, lots of blood,” she says. “You have to have a passion for dentistry and love what you do; if not, you’re going to be grossed out.”
Elsi can relate to her students on many levels. It was only six years ago that she sat in that same chair as a Dental Assisting student with high hopes for a career she would love and provide financial security.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a Dental Assistant?
I had a neighbor who was a Dental Assistant and was always just so happy because she loved what she did. I knew I wasn’t in a real career at that time. And, like so many of my students, I admired that image of the Dental Assistant who makes you feel so comfortable, gives you special attention and makes you feel at ease (in the dental office). The Dental Assistant is the backbone of that office; they’re the ones that make everything happen.
How do you feel you relate to your DA students?
I was sixteen when I had my daughter, so I had to grow up really fast. There are so many obstacles in life, but you can do what you want in life if you truly want to succeed. When I have students who are struggling I tell them to push themselves just a little bit more because I know they can do it. They have to recommit, take accountability. I tell them, “You signed up for a reason; remember that reason, and we can get through this together.
I am also a student. And I work part-time (dental office) and teach. I don’t know how I do it, but I manage. And I know that if I can do it, they can do it.
What kind of support can your students expect to help them succeed in their DA program?
I’m there for them whenever they need me. I remember a late-night call from a student who was really struggling, and she knew I would try to help her. She was going through a lot and at the end of our conversation she thanked me for “caring outside my schoolwork and outside of just being my teacher”. That really touched me.
What is one of the high points of teaching your students?
One of my favorite moments is at the end of an exam or final when they are seeing As and Bs. They were doubting themselves and now they are so happy that they did so well on an exam.
They all learn so differently and I try to adapt to their learning styles. I’m an observer and can see when someone gets it and when someone does not, and I can take a different approach, come up with different ideas and be more creative.
How does your working part-time as a Dental Assistant benefit your DA students?
I’m able to bring back a lot of real-life scenarios, newer technology out there and better explain to them what they’re going to come across when they’re out in the field. And they see that I love what I do.
How does SJVC work with the dental community for DA student externship and job placement assistance?
We (SJVC’s Dental programs) are strong in the dental community and other professional organizations. We work with major companies and dental services, and we get great feedback about our students and graduates. They love it when they hear that a Dental Assistant they are interviewing (for a position) comes from SJVC. We have a strong reputation. In fact, because I’m still in a dental office I have 2-3 managers who come to me and ask when the next group of DA externs are ready. The other day one told me they needed two SJVC externs, ‘right now!’.
The company I work for has hired about 90% of the SJVC externs who worked there (on-the-job training). I’m still working along-side some of them, guiding them. They still call me ‘Mrs. G’ and I tell them they don’t have to call me ‘Mrs. G’ here. It’s bittersweet.
Do you try to stay connected to past DA students or track their success?
We could not be friends during the time they went through their DA program, but soon after they graduate, they are friend-requesting me on Facebook and I love that! And seeing photos they post of them in their (dental) office. Sometimes I run into them, like I did a couple of weeks ago at a gas station. Two best friends signed up for the DA program at the same time and were, “OMG, Mrs. G!” It was great to catch up and was a good affirmation for all of us.
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