Faculty Q&A with Dental Assisting Program Director Tracy Clark
As Dental Assisting Program Director for Carrington College’s Spokane campus, Tracy Clark makes sure her Dental Assisting students get what they came for. She also makes certain they realize their part in that positive outcome.
Tracy promotes a good balance of student expectations and effort, along with staff and faculty support to invite the highest potential for success in the classroom and in their eventual career.
What does your Dental Assisting program offer?
Our Dental Assisting program on the Spokane campus offers Certificate of Achievement education and training program which can be completed in as few as 9 months, that includes an externship in an operating dental office. Students can also continue and earn their Associate of Science degree with Carrington College, if they choose.
What is the job market like for Dental Assistants right now?
I have dental offices calling me all the time wanting Dental Assistants. And, a lot of our Dental Assisting students are getting hired directly from externship.
What is ‘Externship’?
Dental Assisting students spend 6-weeks in a participating dental office applying the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in our Dental Assisting program. Externship is an opportunity for hands-on practice that gives them patient-care experience in the real world.
We try to place someone where we know they will likely get a job offer, fresh out of training. And a lot of our DA externs are getting hired directly from those externships.
Feedback that we get from our extern sites show that our students were able to adapt in the field and were performing the skills they were taught. The message we most often get is, “Let us have more externs!”.
What is your direct role in the Dental Assisting program?
As Dental Assisting Program Director I guide and support Dental Assisting instructors and cover in the classroom when needed. I enjoy teaching and love helping students achieve their goals. Getting to know them and helping them through their struggles is the best thing about my position.
What kinds of student struggles do you mostly see?
Something always happens when you’re trying to go to school. Work, finances and, especially if you have kids, there is struggle. Some are going through a divorce or are about to be homeless. Serious issues.
Sometimes, it’s life situations and sometimes it’s student motivation. Maybe they missed a day of school because they had to work an extra shift. Maybe they didn’t turn in a homework assignment because they were trying to find food for themselves and their children. First, we want to make sure they are safe.
We encourage them to talk; we give them community resources they can reach out to for food, housing, counseling and child-care information. Sometimes they just need a safe place to be. Recently, a student came into my office and said, “I just need a minute; can I just sit here with you?” I just give them a tissue box.
How do you help students with distractions in and out of class?
If family isn’t being supportive or if there’s a little drama in the classroom, I tell them, ‘Others may be trying to run you off your track, but you don’t worry about them; worry about yourself while you’re here. Just focus.’ They can always come and talk to me.
What else might inhibit your DA students’ learning process?
It’s a generation of phone technology and dependency. It’s about attention span and immediate gratification. Some are more inclined to want everything to be easy for them…and they struggle when it’s difficult. Just writing a paper is hard for some students because they’re used to communicating in short texts. They almost have to retrain themselves to write in complete sentences. We coach them with that and with being more professional.
We try to make sure students understand the field and just how professional they need to be. Professional demeanor is vital to success.
How do you support your Dental Assisting instructors?
I’m pretty laid back, not a micro-manager. We talk daily about student issues and if I can relieve or support her, I will. I might step in and do some student tutoring. Whatever the issue, we work well together. I also get to know the DA students pretty well, and I think I’m a good listener and problem-solver.
How does new technology impact your DA program?
Technology moves pretty fast and is getting more digital. The industry makes digital impressions and uses computers for crowns, scanning and making crowns right in the office. Charting is done online instead of paper charts – everything is done electronically now. Students are learning the intricacies of these advancements.
We have program reviews that track trends in these areas, and we can make recommendations for updated equipment to accommodate advancements. Carrington College is very concerned about making sure that everything is up to date. Our eyes are on the future.
What is your greatest reward in your work?
Graduation is one of the most rewarding experiences. When you get to see students come across the stage, so excited and proud. This next graduation will be our first in-person in a couple of years (CoVid pause) with students in cap-and-gown. It will be glitter, stickers and all that fun stuff. We’re so excited!