Fauquier County High School 2014 graduate Mackenzie Rollins has finally found a career she can really sink her teeth into, thanks to a brand-new dental assisting program being offered by Laurel Ridge Workforce Solutions.
This was Rollins’s second time enrolling at Laurel Ridge – she had previously studied business, but realized that wasn’t the field for her. She had also spent more than a year at James Madison University, where she switched majors several times.
An adventurous young woman, she had spent a few years traveling the U.S., working waitress jobs before returning home.
Having always considered a career in dental hygiene, but knowing a new class wouldn’t be enrolling for another year, Rollins decided to apply for the dental assisting class. She thought the four-month certificate program would be a good way to see if she would be interested in pursuing a dental career.
Dental assistants’ responsibilities include sterilizing and setting up instruments, assisting the dentist during procedures, recording treatment information in patient records, recording medical and dental histories, taking vital signs, instructing patients in oral hygiene and plaque control, and ordering and monitoring dental supplies and equipment inventory.
When they successfully complete the program, students receive certification in basic life support CPR and in dental radiation safety.
“I ended up really loving the course and the instructor,” Rollins says. “It was very hands-on. It gave me a really great baseline of what I can expect in the field. I felt really encouraged, and I definitely want to pursue more dental training.”
She shared her excitement about the course, which ran from February to June, with her mother, Donna Comer.
“It was so thrilling to take her phone calls and hear what she had learned that night in class,” Comer says. “I could tell she was learning a lot, and more importantly, I could tell she was falling in love with what she was doing.”
Rollins says she enjoyed that many of the specialty areas of dentistry were touched upon in the course. Now working for a periodontist in Warrenton, Dr. Nina Hirshman, Rollins says she would’ve never considered the periodontics area of dental practice if it weren’t for the class.
“I really like it,” she says. “I’m predominantly care-side. I make sure that the instruments and everything run smoothly. During surgery, I’m pretty much her right-hand man, just ensuring that nothing is touched incorrectly and that the patient is comfortable.”
Rollins sets up everything the periodontist will need before a procedure, and cleans up the room and instruments afterwards.
Dr. Hirshman has even referred her to other dentists, allowing her to gain both more hours and more varied experience. Additionally, Rollins is volunteering in the Fauquier Free Clinic’s dental clinic.
“The first two weeks after Mackenzie started her new job, she was calling me at least three times a week to tell me about her day and how she applied the skills she learned in class, or something new she had learned from the dentist,” Comer says. “This whole experience has been so wonderful for Mackenzie. Not only has she learned a new skill set, she has been surrounded by good people.
“Every interaction she had with Laurel Ridge and Workforce Solutions has been positive. Everyone at Workforce checked in on her progress and followed up with the job search after class ended. I believe Mackenzie felt completely supported throughout the course.”
In fact, Rollins still communicates with her instructor, Jennifer Hallan.
“I still talk to her whenever I’m excited about something that no one else would be able to relate to in regard to teeth,” Rollins says.
She thinks she will likely apply to the dental hygiene program, which begins next year, so she will take some pre-requisite classes this fall. The dental hygiene program is a two-year associate degree program.
Rollins knows some other dental assistants through both her paid and volunteer work who have four-year degrees – and they’re paid the same as she is.
“I didn’t go the traditional route,” she says. “That’s never been my style. It feels really nice and rewarding having a job where I feel comfortable. I’m with people who have different backgrounds, who went the traditional route and are doing the same thing I am, and we’re on the same playing field. I haven’t felt smart in a really long time until recently.”
Comer has noticed a change in her daughter.
“She left the program not only educated, but energized and encouraged,” she says. “She is more confident and focused, and I have no doubt she will continue building off of this new foundation.”
Find out more about the dental assisting program at www.lfccworkforce.com/DA, or by calling 540-868-7021. To learn more about the dental hygiene program, visit www.laurelridge.edu/dental, or call 540-868-7023.