Ninette Lyon, RDA, CDA, EFDA is the Dental Assisting Program Director at our Carrington College Portland, Oregon, campus. We are very grateful to Ninette for finding the time to talk with us; when we spoke, she was temporarily covering both morning and afternoon classes due to a colleague’s maternity leave.
Ninette joined Carrington College in 2006 as Program Director. Ninette has a mix of clinical and corporate experience in the dental field; an industry she’s been involved in for almost 25 years.
I got into dental in about 1989; I’d been working in HR for a trucking company in Reading, CA, when the trucking industry crashed. I was offered an opportunity by the State of California to take an aptitude test that resulted in me being offered a place in a dental assisting program. I didn’t know what a dental assistant did; I’d always worked in executive assistant type jobs in corporate environments. I’d never done anything clinical.
But when the state said they’d pay for school, day care, all my expenses, they really gave me this opportunity, this education, on a silver platter. I had to take it. That was the first Registered Dental Assisting (RDA) certification program in Northern California – I graduated in 1992.
Ninette did clinical work for about seven years before deciding to move into the corporate/management side of the dental industry.
I took the previous corporate experience I gained before school, mixed it with my clinical knowledge and started to climb up the ladder. I’d found my little niche. I was very fortunate; it’s given me a great career out of something I’d never even thought about!
About seven years ago Ninette decided that she thrived on the energy that came from educating; she had taught some independent classes and knew from student feedback that it was a job she could do well.
Prior to joining Carrington I’d been in corporate training for about 10 years. I handled clinical training for one of the largest dental groups in the north-west, with 70 offices throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho. I guess I was more like a regional manager or representative. I started in their HR department in 1997 recruiting dentists, and then I moved over into the training department in around 2000.
I still had some HR responsibilities, but I also did some purchasing, I did a little bit of everything really. I ensured that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) regulations were being followed; I introduced new assistants to their Leads, getting them up to speed… I did far more than just training!
For Ninette, the most rewarding thing in the world is to see a student ‘get it’, take their knowledge and move forward with their life. Her most memorable student story started about five years ago, with a student who completely turned her life around and exceeded everyone’s expectations.
During my first couple of years I had a student who had a history of drug usage. During her drug use she had lost her three kids, but while in the program she got them back, went on to complete her education, remained drug free and is now an office manager at a dental office. She has completely turned her life around. That’s what this all about – it’s so very rewarding.
When asked about the most rewarding part of her career, Ninette’s answer is simple – her students.
Today I had a superstar leave to go to her externship and I got a little choked up – these are my kids! I tease them and tell them that I’m their ‘school mother’, but I really am. For me they’re what it’s all about – and that’s where my loyalty lies. This particular student helped in class, she got it, and she just excelled. I told her that I have a feeling our paths will cross again, because I believe she will be successful.
Ninette uses her HR experience to help her try to craft her students into well-rounded individuals, not just dental professionals. She is adamant that while technical skills are very important, that’s not the only key to success in this industry.
I used to hire people in dental offices, and I tell you it often comes down to personality. I could have an assistant in front of me with 25 certifications, and another with three certifications. If I thought the person with three certifications would get along better with the office, then that’s who I would hire. It’s about your personality, your energy, being engaged…and being engaging. And that’s what I tell my students every day.
Ninette is originally from Muskogee, Oklahoma – making her an authentic ‘Okie from Muskogee’!
I left Oklahoma when I turned 18 in 1982 with about $400 in my pocket; I moved to San Francisco and was very lucky to land a wonderful job in a corporate office of a well known clothing company. The next year I met my future husband Jim and the rest is history I guess you could say!
Ninette and Jim have been together for 30 years, since they were 19. They live in Portland, OR, and have a 20 year old son, Everett, who is attending community college.
We’re pretty boring married people really! We enjoy going to the coast, hiking, junk shopping for stuff we don’t need. We’re currently looking at a refurbished Mustang! I’m going through a mid-life crisis and I want a muscle car! That’s probably us in a nutshell.
When we asked Ninette to tell us something that her students wouldn’t know about her, she struggled a little as she says she’s generally a very open and honest person, with a very dry sense of humor.
My husband and I were big punk rockers back in the 80s. I used to have the spiked hair, I still kind of do. I can’t let go! We listened to bands like the Sex Pistols, Agent Orange. We did the whole lifestyle, Jim even played guitar in a band. I guess people wouldn’t necessarily expect that of a program director, although some of my students probably already know! As I said, I’m a pretty open person.
As we do with all our Faculty Spotlights we ended our conversation by asking Ninette what book, movie and music she would want with her if she was stuck on a desert island, and who she would choose as a companion?
Desert Island DVD – “Giant – with Elizabeth Taylor and Rick Hudson. It’s one of my favorite movies.”
Desert Island Book - “It would be a murder mystery, I’m not too picky.”
Desert Island Music - “Right now it would be anything rock ‘n roll! I love head-banging hard rock ‘n roll music! AC/DC, Aerosmith – my music taste might surprise my students!”
Desert Island Companions – “My husband Jim. I’ve had my husband for 30 years, there’s a lot of training that’s gone into that! ”
Thanks for speaking with us Ninette. We certainly appreciate your commitment to your dental assisting students at the Portland campus, and your ongoing dedication to hard rock ‘n roll!
For comprehensive consumer information on our Dental Assisting program, please visit carrington.edu/degrees/dental-assisting