Kimberly McCreedy's chosen career will fit nicely with what she considers her most important work - raising her two children Erin (age 9) and Matthew (age 2). "Dental hygiene is a timeless career for a mother," she says.
Currently in her summer semester in the Harper College Dental Hygiene Program in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Ill., Ms. McCreedy's goal is to complete training that will launch her career in the dental hygiene field.
An active member of the Student American Dental Hygienist Association (SADHA), Ms. McCreedy is actively laying the groundwork to land her first job following her planned graduation in spring 2007 at the age of 42.
As her family needs and career goals change, Ms. McCreedy plans to remain active in the profession either through patient care or perhaps on the education side. "Dental hygiene as a career choice has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am so thrilled to come to school every day and love the fact that I already have job offers on the table," she says.
How did you decide to study to become a dental hygienist?
Dental hygiene is a timeless career for a mother. As a 41-year-old mother of two children - Erin, 9, and Matthew, 2 - I decided on a career in dental hygiene due to the flexibility it affords. In addition, I love helping people.
Tell us about your dental hygienist education.
Harper College offers a two-year program that I will be graduating from in spring 2007. I have been funding my own education. Harper's program is full time, plus, but I love the challenge. My favorite courses so far have been Pathology and Oral Management of Special Needs Populations.
What do you like and dislike about your dental hygienist education so far?
My favorite part of the program to date is the opportunity to see my education at work. I had a patient last semester that actually cried with joy when I finished his prophylaxis. It is those kind of moments that make me love this career.
The only thing that I can honestly say I dislike so far is the hours of classroom time. Sometimes we arrive at 7 in the morning and are here until 7 at night. However, these hours are necessary and part of the commitment to the program. Once the program is completed, these hours will not be an issue.
Describe the 'hands-on' phases of dental hygienist education.
Hands on is incredible for learning. We not only utilize dentex models for practice, but also each other. In addition, we have highly trained instructors and dentists in our clinic to oversee all of our learning while working with our clinic patients. Harper really does an incredible job of teaching students through hands-on experience.
What factors should prospective dental hygienist students consider when choosing a school?
Factors to consider when selecting a dental hygiene school should include the school's credentials (as they pertain to National Boards), the length of time the program has existed and the school's reputation in the dental community. Harper has a fantastic reputation with a very intense curriculum; we learn in two years here what many other schools cover in four years.
What should dental hygienist students expect of the curriculum? How would you describe the difficulty level?
Dental hygiene students should expect an intense curriculum, and rightfully so. We work with people, therefore we absolutely must know what we are doing and how to provide the very best health care available. Often, systemic disease manifests itself in the oral cavity first. Dental Hygienists must be able to recognize many signs and symptoms of disease as they present in the oral cavity in order to best serve our patients. Thus, to say this program is easy would be wrong, however I've always thought the most rewarding things in life are those that we must really work at to achieve.
How has your involvement with SADHA supported your educational and career development goals? Are you a member of any other campus or professional organizations? How can other dental hygienist students expect to benefit from involvement?
SADHA is a fantastic resource. I am historian in our class, and find it very rewarding to view the progression of myself and my peers. Networking and continuing education is very important with this career choice; SAHDA provides everything one needs to stay on top of things.
Tell us about your dental hygienist career choice. What are some of your professional goals for the future?
Dental hygiene as a career choice has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am so thrilled to come to school every day and love the fact that I already have job offers on the table. I thought dental hygiene would be a perfect choice for me because I can incorporate my career with my two other loves: Erin and Matthew. I love my children more than anything in the world because they are what I have done the very best job with in my lifetime.
Dental hygiene allows me to help other people and gives me personal satisfaction. In addition, when my children are grown, I can still be active as a hygienist or perhaps teach at a dental hygiene school.
In what type of setting do you plan to practice?
I have a specific goal in mind. I would like to work for Great Lakes Naval Academy north of Chicago, coupled with a private practice that works with special needs patients.
What was it like when you worked on your first patient?
Working with my first patient was thrilling. I was actually very nervous prior to the arrival of my first patient; I wanted to provide the very best care I could, but at that time I was still a first year student. With my patient in the chair and my instructors all around me, my apprehension quickly dissipated and it was a fantastic experience.
Beyond your coursework, what other steps are you taking as a student to launch your dental hygienist career?
I have been marketing myself. I often contact practices that I would like to work at and have submitted a letter to the United States Navy. I am very much a people person, and often stop to talk to people I just meet. As a result of my interaction with people in my lifetime, I have a very large network of people who encourage and support me.
What are some dental field trends which could help potential dental hygienist students plan for the future?
The dental field is growing rapidly. I would say that we as hygienists must stay informed. The population in this country is aging and as a result, systemic disease is presenting itself. We must be able to manage our patients during the later decades of life. In previous years, many patients simply presented with dentures, or partials. Many people today are retaining their dentition and would like to keep it that way. Consequently, we need to be able to address the older patient efficiently.
Do you feel that is important to be passionate about the field of dentistry in order to be successful as a dental hygienist?
No, but you do have to be passionate about helping people.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career goals, or the dental hygienist profession that would be interesting or helpful to potential students?
If you have a dream, chase it! The only regret I have about dental hygiene is that I didn't do this 20 years ago.