Jamie Walters’ Tale of Transition from Dental Assisting Student to Instructor

Some people are born to teach…and to show others how to reach their own career potential and aspirations.  Jamie Walters is one of those teachers, and he brings his natural talent and learned skills to the Dental Assisting program’s classroom on Carrington College’s Albuquerque campus every day. Dental Assisting program students may take a seat in that program, uncertain of their direction and capabilities, but they leave with well-honed skills and confidence in the career they have chosen.

You pay to play – and in this program you’re going to get a winning hand.

How did you first become interested in a Dental Assistant career?

I always enjoyed paying attention to detail and working with my hands and dental assisting is very detailed and meticulous work. I was in the offset printing business for 20 years and as more work was going to the computer, I knew I had to make a career change. So I looked for a career field that I knew wasn’t going to disappear.

Ten years ago, I took Carrington College’s (as few as) 9-month Dental Assisting program at night and left there with a Certificate of Achievement.

What was your introduction to your new DA career?

After I completed Carrington College’s Dental Assisting program, I went to work in the field for a group of five dental offices. In addition to working with patients, I always had DA extern students (on-the-job trainees) assigned to me and ran a little class on our dental office procedures.  I also worked with any new hires who might be having issues. The doctors agreed that sharing information would only make our team stronger; and we were only as good as the person helping us.

I remember thinking I could probably enjoy doing this full-time.

When did teaching become your new career direction?

Teaching was always my long-term goal. In 2021, when it came more into focus, I went back to get my CDA (Certified Dental Assistant) credential. I also just graduated in October from the Albuquerque campus with an Associate’s degree in Health Studies in preparation for teaching opportunities.

How did you move from Dental Assistant to Dental Assisting program instructor at Carrington College?

I was teaching part-time at a medical institute in Tucson, AZ and saw Carrington College was looking for a part-time, evening Dental Assisting instructor. Also still teaching people at work, I wanted to give that career direction more focus, so I applied for the position. I got the job offer but had to take and pass three licensing exams within the following three weeks. I passed them all.

For the first year, I was working full-time as a Dental Assistant during the day and was a part-time Dental Assisting instructor at night.

What was your next move?

Carrington College had a full-time job posting for the Albuquerque campus and I interviewed for the position. They offered me the job on the spot. I’d been in the field for 9 years as a Dental Assistant before I became a full-time instructor. The more I taught, the more I felt like I’d found my purpose.

What excites you about teaching your Dental Assisting (DA) program?

The thing I get out of it is seeing where these students are starting from and knowing that through some hard work and dedication they can succeed – they can be where I am now. They can take this information into the field in such a short amount of time and thrive.

What do you most hope to give your Dental Assisting students?

I want them to understand that they’re going into a field where a person’s teeth or smile will change somebody’s life. So many patients have low self-esteem or anxiety because they’ve never felt good about their smile. These students will have a chance to turn it around for that person.

And the better they make that experience, the more that patient will feel good about coming back.

What do successful Dental Assistants have in common?

I tell students to always have a good work ethic and a good attitude going into a job and they will definitely be more of an asset. You have to show up and be on time because if you fail in that first aspect that office is already figuring out a way to be without you.

What is your teaching style?

I’m pretty hands-on and we do a lot of things in lab. We might do some roleplay where I give them scenarios like a disgruntled patient or a patient who is in a state of discomfort and doesn’t want to be there. I teach them how to handle those types of situations and use other scenarios in everyday life they might better relate to and not easily forget.

I might ask a student to explain a procedure to me, like a (tooth) filling, so that I know they are understanding the information and are ready to move forward.

What do you struggle with in the classroom?

I try to have the material relate to students’ everyday life, so they can remember it more easily. It’s not always specific to dental, but something they’re more familiar with I can use to make a point. Sometimes I bring a ‘mentor student’ into the classroom to help students who might struggle a bit. A peer can relate to their issues from their own recent classroom experiences.

How do you encourage your Dental Assisting students?

It’s getting at the heart of their motivation for going back to school. I encourage them to always do what makes them happy.  I tell them, “If you get up every day and are not happy going to work, you should probably make a change. And if you want change, you have to be willing to take a risk.”

That risk is making the sacrifices and doing the work needed to complete their program.

What advice do you give your students who might struggle financially?

Try not to make everything about money. It has to be about what makes you happy. And, with a strong work ethic, skill, knowledge and attitude, you can grow in this career field. Where you start doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll stay. This field is always changing, so it’s important to keep up to date on what’s going on in the dental world. It’s a career where you can show your worth and move ahead.

What inspires you to teach?

I’ve turned full circle from student to graduate, then to instructor – and just recently graduated again with my Associate of Science degree in Health Studies.  My story – my experience – is very much like the students I see in my classroom.

I know what they can do.

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