An Insider's Look into a Career as a Dental Hygienist with Brianna Haro
In this article, you will get a behind-the-scenes look into the career path of a Dental Hygienist. Dental Hygienists are "skilled professionals who perform oral healthcare procedures under the guidance of a dentist."
A career as a Dental Hygienist provides most with a flexible work schedule, above-average salary, and expedited medical training programs. To learn more about becoming a Dental Hygienist, I interviewed Brianna Haro, a current UAII client attending the Dental Hygiene Program at Cerritos College. In our interview, Brianna provides a detailed breakdown of a Dental Hygienist's responsibilities, her education, and important insights to know before committing to this profession.
Brianna Haro's Journey
Brianna described the journey that led her to this career as a rough one. Prior to joining her program, she worked minimum wage jobs that had "little to no room for improvement." In an effort to find a more lucrative career, she began working as a Pharmacy Tech. She quickly realized that, in her experience, it was not as lucrative of a career as she initially thought. She decided to capitalize on her experience in the medical field and accepted a position as a chiropractic assistant. She found joy working as a chiropractic assistant but came to the realization that the work environment was no longer the best place for her to grow and decided to look elsewhere. However, through her time there, she discovered that "she enjoyed working with her hands, with tools, and making people feel better at the end of the day". With this in mind, she decided to pursue a career as a Dental Hygienist.
Questions and Answers with Brianna
1. How did you learn about UAII, and how has UAII supported you in pursuing this career?
"I learned about UAII from my Native American history class professor at Fullerton College. I asked her if she knew of any resources that can help me with my tuition since my tribe doesn't have the funding, plus I have lost ties with that side of my family, and she pointed me in this direction. UAII has helped me so much with tuition, gas, books, school supplies, and more! My counselor Cristina Ramos has advocated for me and without her help, my progress in school would've come to a halt due to financial reasons and I probably wouldn't be in a Dental Hygiene program right now."
2. What should someone entering or looking to enter the Dental Assistant Certificate program expect?
"Expect the unexpected when it comes to the field of Dentistry. It is so much different than you think. Instrumentation and taking x-rays are difficult and awkward but keep pushing. Practice makes perfect!"
3. Where did you earn your Dental Assistant Certificate and what school are you attending now?
"I earned my Dental Assisting Certificate at Fullerton Dental Assisting School. Now, I have been accepted into a Dental Hygiene program at Cerritos College."
4. Why did you choose to attend a dental assistant program instead of applying directly to a dental hygiene program?
"I attended dental assistant school because I wanted the experience before applying to a dental hygiene program. I didn't want to be accepted, pay thousands in tuition and end up not liking it. I did that with the pharmacy tech school I went to and regretted it. For Hygiene school, you need accredited prerequisite classes to even apply and then compete to get accepted, just like Dentistry school, medical school, etc. I took my prerequisites such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, etc., and received good grades in order for them to even consider me. I chose to go to a community college for hygiene school but there are also private colleges which a lot require the same degree and education but are more expensive."
5. What's the difference between the accelerated 10-week program you attended and the traditional 9-to-11-month programs?
"I've known a few people who went to accelerated programs vs the traditional 9-to-11-month programs. The difference is the cost and the accreditation. From my understanding, you don't need a license in order to become an assistant. If a density is willing to train, they will hire. There are also online dental assistant programs as well. I believe it depends on the area if the type of school I went to is an option. They are more of a private type of school with no funding other than the tuition received from the students. I didn't know they existed either, but I just googles dental assistant schools near me, and it popped up."
6. Did you work while attending school? Is it realistic to work full-time while earning your Dental Assistant Certificate?
"Fortunately for the Dental Assisting program, I attended, classes were mostly on Saturdays and were 8 hours long. It was also a 10-week program if you didn't want to earn a coronal polishing and pit and fissure license, and 15 weeks for those additional licenses. I did attend some Fridays and Sundays, but only about once or twice. For this program specifically, you can definitely work a full-time position. I can't say the same for the longer programs. I was also attending Fullerton College full time taking prerequisite courses in order to apply to a Dental Hygiene program at the same time."
7. What do you do at work daily?
"Being a dental assistant is a dirty job. I am sterilizing instruments with possible infectious organisms. I take a lot of x-rays, Assist the doctor with all the materials they need (there are a lot of steps to remember), set up and break down rooms, disinfect, and then some. As an assistant, you never stop moving and have to be ready for the next patient in a timely manner."
8. What skills would you say are important for this position?
"Manners and empathy are very important skills to have as an assistant. You are the first face they see in the operatory room before the dentist even comes in. You need to be able to communicate every move you make to your patient, to make their stay as comfortable as possible. Remember, it's not fun sitting in those chairs being worked on!"
9. What is your favorite part of your job?
"My favorite part of my job is the interactions I get with my patients. I also love the hands-on aspect of it!"
10. What advice would you give someone who recently decided they wanted to pursue this career field?
"A good piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue this career is to be patient with yourself. This career takes a lot of skill and practice. I would also say to make sure this is what you want to do and do your research! It is unlike any other job I've ever had and really opened my eyes to what goes on in this field."
11. What transferable skills from unrelated positions would you say benefited you the most?
"My communication, hand dexterity, organization, and my time management skills were transferred from other jobs to this one."
12. What challenges did you face that you were not aware of when entering this industry, and how would you better prepare yourself if you could go back in time?
"I did not expect that being a dental assistant takes much more energy, skill, and knowledge than I originally thought. This is not a concern to me, but I can see it being a shock to others. I also didn't know just how much material was used and how quick and efficient you must be in Dentistry. Looking back, I should've done a little more research on all the different types of procedures to know exactly what I was getting into."
13. What are your future career goals?
"My future career goals are to become a Dental Hygienist, which I am currently working on doing!"
3 Key Takeaways from Our Interview with Brianna Haro
A career as a dental hygienist is not glamorous. It involves dealing with possible infectious organisms, requires constant movement, and can be particularly uncomfortable and awkward for both the patient and the dental assistant as well. However, do not let this deter you! You will play a tremendously important role in helping patients maintain good oral health and dental hygiene, and have the opportunity to make the patient's care situation as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
In this career field, whether you are a dental assistant or dental hygienist, you are constantly interacting with others, and it is important to be a great communicator. You are not only having to communicate with your patients, but you'll be communicating with dentists, office staff, dental assistants, and the patients' families.
The road to becoming a dental hygienist may not take as long as other medical professionals, but does require post-secondary education. Dental hygiene programs on average take around three years to complete. There are several routes you can take. You can go the route Brianna did and attend a dental assistant program to make sure this is the right field for you before making a bigger commitment. If you decide to go the route of a dental assistant, you can attend the traditional 9-to-11-month program or an accelerated 10 to 15-week program. These programs are very similar, but differ in the cost and pace of the program. If you do decide to apply for the dental hygiene program, be aware that you likely will have to take prerequisite courses like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, etc.
A career as a Dental Hygienist is a great option for people looking to enter the medical field who don't mind getting dirty and working with their hands. If this is something you might be interested in, I encourage you conduct further research on your own or mention it to your UAII Workforce Development Specialist or Career Counselor. If you are not already a client of UAII's Workforce Development Program, you can apply at www.uaiiworkforce.com/apply. Thank you to Brianna Haro for providing her insights and advice for this role!