When I graduated from high school, the life path was planned and the journey to my career started. I was attending a local college, on the pathway to becoming a dental hygienist. Looking forward to being a part of the future for women in dentistry. The first semester was great, no worries and in the books. One down and three to go … I was on my way. Not so easy for the second semester. Baby? Yes, I was pregnant during the semester, which threw a wrench into the plans.
Time to make some quick life decisions that would eventually lead me to where I am today. A great friend brought up an idea about being a dental assistant. Since I had already chosen the field of dentistry, why not be a dental assistant. She had seen many ads in the local paper for dental assistants, they would “train the right person.” With the local paper in hand (this was pre-Internet back in 1992), I quickly started a search and threw a resume together.
The first day in my new Dental Assistant Career, a seasoned dental assistant named Rilda took me under her wing. She was as a dentist in the Philippines, but did not want to go back to dental school for another four years here in New York. I couldn’t believe that all her passion for dentistry was being poured into dental assisting, and I was able to soak it all in. Rilda always thoroughly explained everything and the reasoning behind it. Never did she once get angry or frustrated with me, but continued to push me to be better. For six months, I honed my skills for hours every day with her until she finally felt I could fly on my own. The first moment when I was able to sit chairside with a patient and assist the doctor was magical. Reality set in, I was a dental assistant and part of the future of women in dentistry. That is, until the accident.
Coming home on a Sunday night late from my part-time weekend job at the video store, a drunk driver ran a stop sign. I remember calling my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and yelling at the window of the driver who hit me. My left hand was smashed and swelling, and all I could think about was if I would ever dental assist again. Time healed all my wounds, but eventually the office I worked for could no longer hold my position. I was on the hunt for another outpost that would enhance my dental assistant career like the one before did. This path led to my current job.
Dr. Peter Procopio was, as I called him, “An old school passionate dentist.” He had a great chairside personality, patients loved him, and he was always very educating. I remember him taking me aside many times and saying, “Practice makes perfect, but we are not perfect so we practice again.” I worked for him until 2000 when he decided to retire and sell to my current boss, Dr. Brent Bradford. Dr. Bradford was born and raised in Indiana. He is soft spoken, mild manner and has great chairside rapport with our patients. After the purchase, his vision was to bring the office into the modern age of dentistry while being patient-focused for optimal dental health. This is where I started to transition from chairside to the front office, and eventually I became the practice manager—one step closer to being someone who influences other women in dentistry.
Along the journey, I finished my certification in dental assisting for both state-specific and the Dental Assistant National Board. I am currently working on my Fellowship through the American Dental Assistant Association with a goal of completing it in 2017. Often I struggled with support for running a dental office until joining the American Association of Dental Office Management. While I belonged to the ADAA for dental assistants, joining AADOM launched my leadership role into another direction. Recently, I completed my Fellowship for AADOM at the 2016 Annual Conference in Boca Raton. Even though I have transitioned into the role of the practice manager, I remain current with my education in dental assisting, where my true passion lies.
In 2007, I wanted to do something to give back to the wonderful world of dental assisting. Dr. Bradford and I started a Licensed Career School for Dental Assistants. This was not an easy task, but after jumping through many hoops, the first class was launched. I remember feeling nervous yet excited to give back all the knowledge I accumulated to young women who wanted to soak it all up. Seeing the first class graduate and learning that many landed successful jobs was worth all the hours we put in. It is always nice to hear from graduates who write or email thanking us for helping with their new career. I knew that this was why my path had led me this way, to lead others to be successful women in dentistry.
Today, 23 years later, I have decided to begin offering in-office coaching for dental assistants. The goals are to refine skills, help build better relationships with their doctor, improve patient comfort, and increase the productivity of the schedule and the profitability of the practice. Many dental assistants are undervalued and not given enough continuing education to grow. I know that it’s not an easy task to convince a doctor about the value of a dental assistant coach. Let’s start by placing value in your dental assistant with continued training to refine their skills while learning all they can about dentistry.
Education always played a key role in the growth of my career as a dental assistant and as a practice administrator. The support I received from other women in dentistry empowered me to lead others. I encourage you to continue motivating yourself to discover a better version of you.