Angie Vega graduated from the University of New Mexico's dental hygiene program in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene. She practiced for more than a decade before deciding to try another avenue.
Currently, her career includes serving as president of a company that provides care in settings such as schools and correctional facilities, offers temporary staffing for dental offices, and runs a small clinic one day a week. Angie is a great example of the many options available to dental hygienists. Recently, she answered some questions about how and why she made this career change.
Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?
Angie Vega: As I entered college, I knew I wanted to be in the health-care field, but I was not particularly fond of nursing. I had recently had several dental issues arise, which led to great experiences in the dental and oral surgeon’s offices. So, I researched the field and found the dental hygiene program at the University of New Mexico (UNM). I decided that before I jumped right in, I should figure out if the field was for me. So, I applied for a dental assistant job at a pediatric dentist’s office. I enjoyed the work so much that I worked at that office until I was accepted into the dental hygiene program at UNM. Dental hygiene has allowed me to be very flexible with my family obligations while providing stable employment and great compensation.
How did you get into dental public health?
AV: After 15 years of practicing as a dental hygienist in private practices, I realized there had to be another venue and experience for me. Several years ago, I started the Master of Science in dental hygiene degree program at UNM, and I knew from that experience that I enjoyed teaching and leading new hygienists. So, along with a great friend who is also a dental hygienist, we started envisioning a new experience for ourselves. We wanted to work for ourselves and reach as many New Mexicans as possible. There is a massive amount of dental need in the state of New Mexico. A corporation started in 1997, Mira Consulting Inc., began a work within schools across the state providing preventive dental treatment. My partner, April Moreno-Gutierrez, and I purchased Mira Consulting in July 2018. We stepped away from the private dental practice, and now we are experiencing a unique adventure in public health.
What are your current positions?
AV: My current position as president of Mira Consulting, Inc. has several aspects of operations. I prepare weekly schedules for more than 40 staff members, who provide temporary staffing in private practices, schools, and correctional facilities. Mira currently runs a dental clinic on Fridays for patients who require more extensive dental treatment. April and I are very involved with operations and continue to provide services in the schools and correctional facilities as licensed dental hygienists. We feel it is very important to be able to provide services along with our staff and be knowledgeable about the details that are required to efficiently run the company.
Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health position?
AV: The most important aspect of each interaction with public health patients is the amazing amount of gratefulness they exude. Without public health practitioners, most or all of these patients would not receive any dental care. Some patients have not seen a dentist outside of our care, and they appreciate our company’s willingness to go to them.
As a practicing dental hygienist, there are always interesting experiences! You have to understand that as a clinician, adaptability is the key. Environments you work in always change, the equipment can cause hiccups, and your patient population is always unique to the environment. This is also what makes public health so fun and rewarding. You took the extra effort to stretch yourself and your capabilities, and in return helped take care of a population in much need of your expertise.
What advice would you give to a practicing hygienist who is thinking of doing something different?
AV: Every experience is unique, and every day is different! It may not be what you expected, but it may be the change you need in your career. There are several aspects to public health. We work in rural areas, corrections, and even neighborhood schools—all of which are very unique experiences and populations of the public.
While raising my children, I always made them try everything once. If you do not like it after you have experienced it, then you can say it is not for you. At least you did it and know. There is something to be learned from every experience in life, and believe me, every day in public health there are amazing experiences! From meeting amazing health providers to opening opportunities in other venues, it is an experience I would advise any hygienist to at least try.
Do you have anything else to share? I would like to get the message out that there are more opportunities for hygienists, and advancing our educational levels is a good start.
AV: As dental hygienists, we love to empower and strengthen other dental hygienists. We hope the future will bring more opportunities for us to do so. We strongly encourage the collaborative practice, and would love to help hygienists be able to work for themselves by creating a dental clinic that would allow hygienists to rent an operatory and see patients of record.
Angie has already fulfilled five professional roles of the dental hygienist (figure 1) throughout her career.
Attaining multiple roles at various times throughout a dental hygiene career can add to professional satisfaction and keep one's career dynamic. Angie is making a difference while also having a different experience. Advance your career by advancing your education or trying something unique. In the end, it helps advance our profession and the society we serve!
Christine Nathe, MS, RDH, is the director at the University of New Mexico division of dental hygiene in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is also the author of Dental Public Health Research, which is in its fourth edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.