Alumni Spotlight – Meet Jerilyn Thompson
We are very proud of the accomplishments of our Carrington College alumni. Jerilyn Thompson RDH, a 2009 Dental Hygiene program graduate from the San Jose campus, was recently invited to sit on the Standard Setting Committee for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE).
Jerilyn used her expertise to help establish the minimum passing score for the NBDHE. Her invitation came from the Chair of the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.
This recognition from her industry was a wonderful achievement.
Thank you for your time Jerilyn. Tell us more about the NBDHE Standard Setting Committee.
Standard setting involves the establishment of a cut score that separates passing and failing candidates for the NBDHE. The JCNDE [Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations] periodically reviews these standards to ensure the reliability and validity of the minimum passing scores. The meeting was at the American Dental Association headquarters in Chicago, IL, for two days in May, 2015.
How did you get invited to join the committee?
Several years ago I worked as a Patient Care Coordinator at The University of the Pacific (UOP) Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco. The dental school gave me the opportunity to be mentored by several dental disciplines. Dr. Lisa Harpenau, a periodontist at UOP, was one of my main mentors. She gave me dental hygiene and periodontal books (some of which she coauthored) and encouraged me to return to school to become a dental hygienist.
Dr. James Garibaldi, an oral surgeon who was at UOP at that time, cheered me on by making sure I studied hard and understood my science curriculum. Dr. Garibaldi would stop by my desk every week, and ask how I faired on chemistry examinations or quiz me on anatomical questions of the human skull.
Dr. Harpenau made it a point to follow my career through dental hygiene school, and earlier this year asked if I would be willing to go to Chicago for the meeting. The committee needed a full-time hygienist, so she recommended my name to the Joint Commissioner. Dr. Harpenau is a phenomenal woman and a highly accomplished periodontist. After her recommendation, I was asked to submit a short biography, work history, and résumé before being considered… fortunately for me, I was selected!
Congratulations! But let’s rewind… What made you think about pursuing dental hygiene?
I was raised by an extraordinary and loving single father. I saw my father study diligently and work his way through dental school. Although my father is now retired, he always encouraged me to go to dental hygiene school. Before he retired, I worked as a dental assistant in his private practice. He taught me the importance of having a warm bedside manner, and to understand that dentistry was not just a profession, it was an opportunity to affect a change in a patient’s life.
I later moved to Oakland, California from Denver, Colorado and I decided that my father was right. Like the strong pull of the ocean, I listened to his words of wisdom that said, “go back to school and become a dental hygienist.”
California has very high standards for health care providers. Prior to working with patients, you must have state credentials. I had experience working as a dental assistant, but it was hard to find work without state licensure. I studied arduously and passed the written and practical examination to become a registered dental assistant [RDA]. I enjoyed being an RDA but I wanted to have more autonomy and responsibility when it came to direct patient care.
My dream was to become a hygienist and to achieve that goal, I knew I would have to return to school. I was in my late thirties when I went to Carrington. I had two small children and lived an hour away from school. I want future students to know that with determination and tenacity, you can go back to school at any time and fulfill your dreams.
You mentioned working with your father, what else did you do before coming to Carrington?
When I first moved to the Bay Area, I worked as a dental assistant for Dr. Herbert Husen, a retired general dentist in the Marina district of San Francisco. Dr. Husen had been practicing for over 30 years, so you can imagine how warm and dedicated he was to his staff and patients. I loved working for Dr. Husen! He taught me to listen to the needs and chief complaints of patients and to be polite while managing their dental care. I also watched the way his hygienist performed her daily duties and as I saw her scale teeth, I thought, “I can do that.”
I needed to return to school, so I left my position with Dr. Husen and worked as a Patient Care Coordinator at UOP for nearly ten years. The position required that I work directly with dental students and patients as they tried to figure out payment arrangements for treatment. I also billed insurance and medical claims. I valued being an employee at UOP, but I also understood that I wanted a bright and promising future like the graduating dental students.
I started taking night classes at Laney Community College in Oakland, California. It took a while for me to complete hygiene prerequisites, but I was determined. I had a large group of mentors, including family, dentists, dental students and even patients – who were my cheering crew. Their support and encouragement propelled me to reach for the stars and achieve my dreams.
I am fortunate to have constantly been around people who would say “you can do it.” Their belief in me was incredibly motivating. My husband, Will, was also very supportive. He took our kids to school, brushed their teeth (I taught him the Bass Technique) and helped with housework. My son Aman is now 10, and my daughter Zewditu is 13. They both attend American Indian Public Charter Schools in Oakland. I could not have completed my program without his support.
Where are you working currently?
I work at La Clinica De La Raza, a federally qualified community health center in Oakland.
A majority of our patients are uninsured or underinsured. Some have had little or no dental care and most speak only Spanish.
I love being a hygienist at La Clinica because the patients are grateful and very appreciative. I love when elderly patients give me hug and thank me for my work.
I sometimes see children while I am out in the community and they run up to me and say, “I brushed my teeth today and I didn’t eat any candy!” I am also learning Spanish. Since some patients have had very little dental care, they trust and rely on me to give them the best care possible. It is very touching to teach a mother or father to correctly brush their children’s teeth or explain to a teenager that bad hygiene is NOT cool or sexy. It has really been a wonderful journey.
How long have you been at La Clinica?
I began working at La Clinica shortly after graduating in 2009 – I did my externship there. On my first day of work, I saw a dental assistant helping a patient fill out his medical history. When I saw the care and respect that she was giving, I knew La Clinica was where I wanted to be. I have that moment etched in my memory. It made such an impression on me; one that I still reflect and try to build upon with each clinical day. I am so grateful that I was able to make it my home after I graduated.
What is the most valuable thing you learned about yourself at Carrington?
The most valuable thing I learned about myself at Carrington was becoming a dental hygienist was not a right, but a healthcare privilege. To answer that question in more detail, we need to look at the mission statement of Carrington which is “to provide learning opportunities to individuals in the communities it serves.”
Carrington gave me the foundation and opportunity to become a dental professional and return to Oakland to help my community. I was also taught by incomparable and paramount Dental Hygiene program instructors who were vigorous with their curriculum, yet compassionate and understanding. Mrs. Sherry Heaney, the Dental Hygiene Program Director, Mrs. Kim Clark, Mrs. Natalie Vanoli, Mrs. Gloria Navarri and Dr. Stenovich.
What impressed you most about the Dental Hygiene program at Carrrington?
As I mentioned earlier, I worked at UOP before applying to Carrington. UOP is one of the best in the world. It has a reputation for high performing students, preeminent instructors and modern dental equipment. Mrs. Sherry Heaney, the Dental Hygiene Program Director at Carrington once worked and helped develop their dental hygiene program, so I felt right at home when she gave me a tour of Carrington’s hygiene program and clinic. I was impressed with the eighteen month program and the dental hygiene clinic. Students are also now being taught to use computer based dental charting systems, which will greatly help as they transition into the professional world.
What are your longer term career plans?
I need to take a few more courses to get into a California State University. I want to get a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy or Public Health. My ultimate goal is to work for the United States Government. I want to participate in policy making for oral and dental hygiene care for the public.
Dental hygiene is now in the golden age with changes from the past to the present and future. I met Dr. Esther Wilkins, the Mother of Dental Hygiene and author of one of our most important textbooks. At 92, she was spunky, happy and full of determination. Every once in a while providence puts you in touch with someone who shows you the horizon of your dreams, and I found that with Mrs. Sherry Heaney and Carrington. I hope to one day walk in the shoes of Dr. Esther Wilkins and Mrs. Sherry Heaney.
I love being a clinician, but I also have a deep drive to make a difference in the world. As a hygienist, I can help thousands of people but as a federal policy maker, I can affect the lives of a million people and protect the future of the underserved. Thank you Carrington!