Many adults ask this question just to create conversation with kids. Most reply with the usual, a doctor, a veterinarian, a fireman, a ballerina, or a teacher. I was very typical, I wanted to be a veterinarian! I loved all animals and the outdoors. I was very much a tom-boy. As an only child and only grand-daughter on one side, I pretty much got to have it all! We always had the classic animals, dogs, cats, and fish. But through the years we had: a pot-bellied pig, a few goats, horses, bunnies, chickens, hamsters, a white rat, parakeets, and guinea pigs... okay, you get the idea! I feel very blessed to have had the childhood that I did, living very wild and free. The values you learn caring for animals is priceless.
As I matured, the question was still asked. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I began to consider the life that I wanted and how a career could support that lifestyle. It was a pretty mature thought for a 14 year old who was totally into rodeo, boys, and braces! I knew I wanted to be a wife and mom, but also choose a flexible career with good hours. All along I was even thinking of something that could support my expensive rodeo habits!
At that time, my mom worked at a pediatric dental office as an assistant. Between visiting her at work, my normal dental exams and cleanings, and orthodontic visits, I felt like I lived there. That summer I got hired and I started to see the inner workings of a dental office. I helped clean instruments, change over the rooms, develop x-rays, pour models, and file charts. Oh and how could I forget-- cleaning the toilets! I picked all the employees brains and found out some of the pros and cons to dentistry. By the end of the summer, I concluded that being a dental hygienist might be pretty awesome! It seemed to have the package I was looking for.
I eventually got out of braces, but my love for dentistry never faded. In high school, I did well academically and continued to pursue this "dental hygiene dream." I took a part time job after school at a local dental office to stay in the loop and learn as much as I could. They gave me a few more expanded duties and I got to assist the dental hygienist, this time even taking the x-rays. But oh yes, I was still on toilet cleaning duty! I enjoyed earning a paycheck and soon became a work-a-holic. I loved dental hygiene more.
So here is the sad part, but also the part that solidified my decision to pursue dental hygiene. During my senior year of high school my parents had a bitter divorce and I witnessed first hand how hard life can become, especially for a single mom. I knew right then, that dental hygiene could easily support a tough season of life if it came down to it. I ended up not going off to college like normal kids. The wiser decision was to stay home with my mom to support her, attend a local college to get pre-requisites, and save on tuition. I had to work to put myself through college too. I switched jobs for a period of time and went to work for a horse ranch and later a veterinary clinic. I think I needed animal therapy and the peace and quiet that comes with it. It was a weird season, but I truly believe I passed pharmacology because of those months spent caring for and administering medicines to animals.
Still in college, I switched back to dentistry and worked the front desk, verifying insurance, collections, and making appointments. By the time I started to apply, I had a well rounded view of "dental office life." I applied to eleven different dental hygiene schools, of which I got accepted to one and on a waiting list for two others. I was all set to attend the one I got accepted to, but last minute I received a call that changed everything... I had been accepted to the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio under the leadership of Dr. Nita Wallace. I didn't fully understand just how wonder that really was until later; I was just excited to get to go to a large university where I would be in the company of all medical professionals and unlimited resources! I was the youngest in my class, yet I proceeded to make the Deans List, got highly involved in the student government association, and ended up making a perfect score, a 100, on my clinical boards! While I attended UTHSCSA it was ranked top three in the nation for Dentistry. I had no idea what an amazing foundation I had received upon graduating. I'm blessed, thankful, and grateful that it is still paying dividends today!
I hope this brief overview of my journey in becoming a dental hygienist encourages you to ask the hard questions as you decide o a career or even a career change. Focusing solely on the large paychecks will never truly stratify your soul. Focus on your priorities and values that matter to you and the people. Find something you can feel proud of doing and find a career that supports your life. A career is a large part of your life, but it's not the most important or your true identity. Give yourself some grace if it takes you a few times to find your passion. Remember, I am the exception to the rule. I'm a rare case at deciding what I wanted to be at such a young age and was able to pursue it in a timely manner and love it. "Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life," is a saying that has been true for me as a dental hygienist.
If you are considering becoming a dental hygienist, it is a wonderful career for a wife and mom. It's truly flexible for all the seasons women experience. I love that if we have a trip planned or an extra expense, I can go and pick up a few extra days to help compensate. I love that you can relatively ask off anytime for illnesses or trips. It's a trade and skill that you can feel proud of and the life long friendships you make with patients and coworkers are the "good stuff." Oh! and the stories that you will acquire over the years... get ready to laugh and cry! Dental hygiene is a special for sure. I've helped and mentored many young girls over the years become a dental hygienist. If you want to talk or need advice, I'm definitely someone that will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly to dental hygiene. Email me anytime.