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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Grad Q&A with Dental Hygiene Graduate Kelly Castro

July 20, 2021

Entering her mid-thirties Kelly Castro wanted a career that put her in control of her time and income. As a Dental Hygienist she could construct her own work schedule, while she earned a salary that reflected the professionalism and skill level she sacrificed so much to achieve.


As a former Marine where she spent several years as a diesel mechanic, Kelly brought a military focus to a plan that would help her realize this career ambition. Her husband, Jose, (also ex-military) and their three children, Jaden, 13, Anaiya, 11 and Tristen, 10, were on board to lend support.


Why did you choose to become a Dental Hygienist?

I liked the medical field but didn’t want to be a nurse and work 10–12-hour shifts, nights and weekends because we had kids. There were so many appealing things about being a Dental Hygienist. You’re kind of your own boss. You make your own schedule and can work a 4-day week. You work alone for the most part but are close with your patient. It pays well. Money isn’t everything, but it is important, especially when you have a family.


What makes you good at your job?

I’m a people-person and talking to people as a Dental Hygienist is something I can do. I learned to interact with all kinds of people all over the world and can start a conversation easily. As a Hygienist I want to make patients feel comfortable.

A lot of people have dental anxiety and just hate to come to the dentist. SJVC (Dental Hygiene program) taught us how to handle that situation. They taught us how to talk to the patient and make them feel comfortable. They taught us to take it slow so that patients don’t feel like you’re rushing through. I explain to the patient what I’m going to do and why this is important. I haven’t had a patient run out of the room yet!


Why did you choose SJVC’s Dental Hygiene program in Visalia?

I did some research, looking around, and found out that this (SJVC’s DH program in Visalia) is one of the only dental hygiene programs within a couple of hundred miles. And that made me pretty lucky! One of my friends is a dentist and he told me it was a reputable school. He also hired many dental hygienists from the school.

The GI Bill paid my tuition, so for me it was an easy decision.


Was the Dental Hygiene program what you expected?

I didn’t realize that hygienists learn so much! I thought, ‘oh, they just clean teeth’. But you learn a lot that a dentist learns, like anatomy, psychology and chemistry – and how to take good care of your teeth. We are oral health educators, and we have to explain to patients why it’s important to take better care of their teeth – and motivate them to do better. Education means better prevention.


What was the hardest part of the program for you?

In the beginning of Term-1 I was terrified. In clinic, when we were working on each other I remember shaking like crazy all the time. By Term-3 and Term-4 I felt like ‘Look at what I can do; look what I’ve accomplished!’ I was actually doing what I would be doing in real life, so if I can do this now, I’m going to be OK out there.

I felt like the girls who didn’t have any kids had a lot more time to focus on studying. The hours I needed to spend studying is not just something you can pick up real easy. It was definitely difficult. Time management is pretty important. And, I was working part-time while I was in the DH program.


What got you through the hard times?

I felt like if I ever needed any extra help, I could always go to my teachers. We’re learning a skilled trade and have to sit down and learn how to work with your hands. You can’t just go and study more. But it wasn’t like community college where they don’t really care. Here, they would make sure you’re doing ok. We each had a mentor, a faculty member who was designated as your go-to if you needed extra time or one-on-one counseling.

The military trained me to be self-disciplined. The Marine Corp is one of the hardest boot camp’s training you can go through, so I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.

But my main motivation was right in front of me – my kids and husband. I wanted to work hard for my family.


What worked for you about the Dental Hygiene program?

The clinic was extremely beneficial. Sometimes we had to find our own ‘patients’ (volunteers DH students use to practice their growing skills). We learned how to schedule patients and make sure they came in. We had to be the adult (professional) in charge and work really hard at that.

We get Dental Hygienist certification from the school (SJVC) but have to get a license from the State. We do a Clinical Board (exam) and a written Board (exam). We have to pass both from the State of California to be licensed as a Registered Dental Hygienist. When I found out I passed, I was over the moon!


What was some of the best advice you got before going out into the job market?

One of the dentists who worked with the school (DH program) told us, ‘When you get out of school you don’t know everything, so don’t go out of here thinking that you do. In our career we’re always doing continuing education because the science changes. Stay humble, but you want to be confident in what you’ve learned in school.’ Humble but confident; that’s what I want to be.


Was it hard to find your first job as a Dental Hygienist?

I found out there was no problem, whatsoever, in finding a job. You don’t know until you’re out there and see that it’s true. I was a little nervous, but right out of school I started working for two dentists. I can set up what days and hours I want to work. I have sliding hours in each office and they set my appointments within agreed-upon parameters. It’s so cool!


Do you plan to take your Dental Hygiene career higher?

Right now, I feel very content and happy with how things are. SJVC offers a Dental Hygiene Bachelor’s degree, so eventually I will be getting my Bachelor’s. To me it is a badge of your education and shows you have the ambition to get your Bachelor’s. And, if you want to go into teaching at any point, you would want to have that.


Are you satisfied with your accomplishments?

My husband and I have served our country and have worked really hard for everything we have. We bought a new house right after I graduated. With this career I can provide better for my family. It took a couple of years (to become a Dental Hygienist), but it has great rewards at the end.

Learn more about a career as a dental hygienist

As a hygienist you play a pivotal role in the dental office and in each patient’s oral health as you perform routine care, discuss preventative measures, and screen for dental diseases.

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