Grad Q&A with Dental Hygiene graduate Kim Hope
In 2000, a newly divorced mom of three young children had a dream to become a Dental Hygienist.
Money was tight and she had no time to waste on trial-and-error choices that would prolong the time before she could provide financial stability for her young family.
She had big decisions to make, and she had to make them in a hurry.
Meet SJVC Dental Hygiene graduate, Kim Hope, who not only achieved her dream but went on to open her own independent dental hygiene practice.
What were the primary factors you had to consider in choosing a Dental Hygiene program?
Time. I researched Dental Hygiene programs in this area, and it came down to community college or San Joaquin Valley College. SJVC was a private school and more expensive, but community college was a lottery program with a long wait list. I decided I’d rather go to private school and pay back my loan, which I could do because I would be working sooner. I had friends who applied to community college at the same time I applied to SJVC. By the time they started their program I was already finished.
If I was looking for a Dental Hygiene school right now, the SJVC DH program pass rates for the National Boards would be huge to me. I would choose them just for that.
Any other reason for choosing SJVC’s Dental Hygiene program in Visalia?
I needed something local because my mom, Linda, lived close by (Lemoore) and she totally helped me with the kids. She is my rock. If I had to study, she would take the kids (Jordan, Kailey and Austin, who was just two years old), and she would pop over in a heartbeat.
How did you know Dental Hygiene was the right career choice?
I always had a love for teeth; I was obsessed with teeth! In middle school we had a science project and our neighbor, who was a dentist, brought me six extracted teeth for my project. I put each of them into diet or regular sodas and after a few days, rated them on staining, erosion, and any change in structure. I took before and after pictures. The sodas that were not diet changed teeth the most. I got First Place and was in the newspaper.
Once you decided on SJVC’s DH program what was the enrollment process like?
It was only the fourth Dental Hygiene class to start on the Visalia campus and everything was brand new; the clinic was awesome. It was very competitive to get in. It was wild back then with girls coming in from out of state. You had to meet strict requirements to secure a spot. I think there were 30 of us, only four from the (San Joaquin) Valley, and a lot of us still keep in touch.
Did you find the support you needed in the program?
The support they (faculty/staff) gave us started Day One. They let us know if we needed anything they were there – and they followed through with that. They would stay after clinic if we had questions or needed them. When we got close to taking Boards (National Board Exam) it was pretty high-stress, and they would take the time to go over questions with us.
How did you balance school with all the responsibilities of home and family?
One week before I started the Dental Hygiene program this guy invited me to go out to dinner. I was thinking, ‘no way’. But my mom told me, ‘I watch the kids all day long, but I will watch them even more if you will go out on a date.’ She was like, ‘Go ahead, take her!’ Aaron became a big part of my support system, and he and I have been married 20-years.
What did you enjoy most about the Dental Hygiene program?
I think just the bond that was made, not just with classmates, but lifelong bonds I’ve made with my instructors. Now that I have my own business, I feel we have an even closer bond.
Explain the National Board Exam and the Clinic Board exam process and what DH students earn.
To become a Registered Dental Hygienist, you have to take the National Boards (8 hours allowed for written exam) then, at a later date, the Clinic Board where you bring your patient in with you to perform specific treatments/services.
Were you anxious about passing these exams?
I felt I HAD to pass the Boards because so much was riding on it. I needed to be out there earning a living. What if I failed. I didn’t have a Plan B to take care of these kids. It was a lot.
Even though at the time I could have gone back to the dental office where I’d been working the front desk (before starting the Dental Hygiene program) and even take an office manager position; in my head, I just didn’t want to fail.
What kept you on track toward your career goal?
I felt like I had to push myself and do this for my children. I had a ton of love and support, but I knew I’d better inspire myself, better make this work.
What advice would you give others who are thinking about making a similar push toward a career?
I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘This is going to take too long’. I tell them, ‘Two years are going to go by no matter what, and you’re still going to be in this same position, stressed and complaining. Just start. Take one class, then take another. If you want to get there faster, push yourself.’
Yours is a wonderful success story. What are the highlights?
After many years of practice as a Dental Hygienist I applied for the RDHAP program (Registered Dental Hygienist Alternative Practice) so that I could have my own brick-and-mortar office. (Kim completed a 6-month education program and passed the required Board exam.) I went out on my own and opened All Smiles Dental Hygiene in Lemoore a year ago, and I feel pretty lucky to have my own independent dental hygiene practice.
What’s it like having your own dental hygiene practice?
A busy dental office can be a little chaotic. I have created a new environment for my patients, where they’re not anxious and they can feel comfortable. I listened to what was uncomfortable for them in a dentist’s office and created a more comfortable and quiet space. They won’t have to hear a drill in the next room or a child screaming out of fear of the dentist. They won’t have to be bombarded with extensive treatment plans or listen to irritated people waiting to be seen.
People feel safe in this protected space, just coming in and being the only patient. It’s just me taking care of their teeth cleaning, giving them oral hygiene instruction, bonding with them, and making them as comfortable as possible. My patients are special to me. I feel so lucky every day.
This is a close-knit community and my patients are very faithful. I have patients who came to me when they were kids and now, I’m cleaning their kids’ teeth. It has been very rewarding.
Read Our Career Guide On Dental Hygiene
Do you have an interest in dental health and oral hygiene? Then you should consider pursuing a dental hygiene career.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.