By Shannon L. Pace, CDA, CDD, Linda Zdanowicz, CDA, CDPMA, and Tina M. Calloway, CDAToday’s dental assistants do more today than what was expected of them almost 10 years ago. Not only are they asked to gather patient information and work side-by-side with the dentist, but they must also have a complete understanding of how technology is used in the operatory. More assistants are using digital photographs and creating their own provisionals rather than sending them out to the lab. Some are even placing composites. While continuing education is not required for some, there are many assistants who thirst for more knowledge. To them, this isn’t just a 9-to-5 job; it’s a career. Dental Assisting Digest™ has asked three leading dental assistants (Shannon Pace, Linda Zdanowicz, and Tina Calloway) to share their value of the profession and how it has allowed them to grow and be more than just an assistant.Shannon L. Pace, CDA, CDD —I learned early on that “It is not what you get, it’s what you give.” My dental background started when I worked my senior year of high school as a hygiene assistant. I loved it, but the hygienist never got anything done because I was trying to talk to all the patients. So they moved me to the front desk.During the next four years, I worked front and back getting experience in all aspects of the practice. After moving on to a group practice in Charlotte, N.C., I was told I was going to be a roving assistant. They made it sound so glamorous. Little did I know that I would be working for five different dentists, and one who was left-handed. It forced me early on to learn all I could about dental materials, because each dentist had his preferences and each situation had specific indications.One of the dentists spoke about a cosmetic dentist by the name of Dr. Ross Nash, who was known for bonding and porcelain veneers. I was looking one Sunday in the newspaper and came across an ad he placed for an assistant. I met with Drs. Nash and Gary Radz, and Deborah Nash. I loved their energy, passion, and the fact that while I was there they were placing some veneers on Ms. Teen USA. All I can remember is that when they were finished, she looked in a mirror and cried. I loved that feeling of appreciation. I never got a hug after a root canal. I knew then that dentistry could change lives, and this is where I wanted to be.After working there for two years, Dr. Nash opened the Nash Institute. Dentists came from all over the world to take courses about cosmetic procedures. I realized that we were missing courses for the dental assistant and how to train the whole dental team in these procedures. We all know that when dentists take courses, they come back with excitement about new dental materials and new procedures. They simply expect the assistant be on board and know all about it. Well, that isn’t an effective method to implement “new” procedures into a practice – the whole team has to understand and be on board.I worked on an agenda and outline for a course for assistants and Dr. Nash liked it. The first one sold out, and we soon had a waiting list. We never thought it would be so successful. I was surprised and excited at the same time. There had always been a void for practical courses for assistants, both lectures and hands-on. I felt this was my calling and I was trying to fill that void. I know personally, from taking so many courses with dentists, that you may want to raise your hand and ask questions, but you hesitate thinking it is a dumb question or it would expose your lack of understanding. Some of the courses were also over my head, and often the terminology was too much for me to understand, so I started taking as many courses as I could. I wanted to know just as much or more than the dentist in the audience or at the podium to pass this along to my dental peers.Since then, I’ve completed hundreds of hours of continuing-education credits (both giving and receiving), and helped D4D Technologies implement a chairside dental designer program (CDD), which provides a unique certification program for dental assistants and technicians to become more valuable and proficient at digital dentistry. I’ve met wonderful assistants from all over the world.During my work with AACD, D4D Technologies, and The Dawson Academy, my underlying message is the same everywhere I speak — raise your knowledge, your care, and your profession. I always close with a story about my own teeth and restorations and how being a patient made me a better listener, caregiver, and most importantly, a better assistant. I want all assistants to feel comfortable sharing their opportunities as well as learning from each other. We all have something to share — a better technique, a better method, and a better way. Let’s take the better way together. Linda Zdanowicz, CDA, CDPMA —When I graduated high school, I had no idea about what I wanted to do. I heard about a dental assisting program and decided to try it. I found that I loved everything about dental assisting. I enjoy seeing a lot of different people all day and helping others overcome fears and appreciate what dentistry can do for them.After about six years, I took a hiatus from assisting to raise three wonderful children. Some 14 years later, I was ready to go back to work. I considered going back to school so I could begin my next career. Once again, I made the decision and chose dental assisting as my occupation.I returned to school to update my knowledge, became certified, and returned to assisting in a great practice with a dentist who really enjoyed sharing his knowledge. I had no idea when I started my career as a dental assistant in 1977, that it would become my life-long career and bring me so much enjoyment and personal and professional satisfaction. By teaching assistant courses, I feel that I can share my experience and the joy I receive from my profession. Hopefully, I inspire other assistants to see dental assisting as a life-long profession.I gave my first solo course last month, and giving this course was an honor for me because it meant that someone thought I had something to offer that could help other assistants. It also meant that a group of assistants would give up two hours of their life to listen to what I had to say. I had more than a year to prepare and was amazed at how much time I needed to put together a good presentation. One thing that giving the course allowed me to do was the chance to overcome a life-long fear. I have always been afraid of public speaking. I wanted to conquer that fear, and one important factor was my constant preparation. By making sure that I really knew my material, I had confidence that I wouldn’t freeze up. I read books about positive imaging and used those techniques to stay calm and positive. Finally, I realized that this was a group of my peers and caregivers — all who had kind hearts and wanted to do well. I looked into the audience and realized I had nothing to worry about when I saw a group of smiling, curious faces waiting for me to begin. As the course progressed, I felt like I was having a conversation with a group of friends.You can make your career a satisfying, enjoyable profession. You can keep growing throughout your career. You don’t have to leave assisting to feel a sense of pride or accomplishment. You have the power to increase your knowledge and skill, and your earning potential will increase as well. By using all of the resources available to you — such as CE, reading materials, and other dental professionals — you can continue to learn throughout your career. You have the freedom to make your career as big as you want it to be. The sky really is the limit.Tina M. Calloway, CDA —My father introduced me to dentistry at a very young age. My father was a dental hygienist in the U.S. Army during the 1970s. I had the opportunity to visit him while he worked, which resulted in my interest in pursuing a career in dentistry.My career as a dental assistant began 14 years ago, but unfortunately, I got off to a rocky start. My very first dental assisting job lasted two weeks! I was fired and told that perhaps I should find something else to do. My dentist did me the biggest favor – he made me want to prove him wrong and that he made the biggest mistake of his life. By telling me that I couldn’t, he gave me the resolve to pursue clinical assisting that much more. I was determined to make it work!Shortly thereafter I met Dr. Mark Hyman, who taught me that clinical assisting was more than just a job; it was a career. He taught me how to reinvent myself in pursuit of my dreams … to see my career go where it has never gone before. Most important, he shared that while you are following your dreams, you must make sure that you help make the world a better place. My decision was to help make an impact in the world of dentistry, beginning in an area I was most passionate about and knew the best – clinical assisting.During the course of my career, my team and I enjoyed attending every continuing-education course we could; however, it seemed that every course I took was directed toward every team member except the assistant. With this realization, I began brainstorming on what compelling message I could give my colleagues. I wanted to share my heart and help my fellow assistants who either had experience or were suffering from burnout. My teaching career began with the topic “Keeping the Flame Alive.” I learned there are a lot of assistants who do not give themselves enough credit for the value they bring to their team or have simply fallen into a rut.It is through networking with fellow assistants and advocates such as Shannon Pace, Linda Miles, and Niki Henson that we are reminded of what we are truly capable of – that we do have a voice that needs to be heard. Each one of us has the power to make a career-changing impact.Author biosShannon L. Pace, CDA, CDD, is currently the editor-in-chief of Inside Dental Assisting magazine and is also on the editorial board of The Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry. She is on faculty at The Dawson Academy where her hands-on programs are held. Ms. Pace was named to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Board of Directors in 2008, making her the first dental assistant elected to the Board. She is an evaluator for THE DENTAL ADVISOR and consultant for many dental manufacturers. Ms. Pace is a 1994 graduate of the Dental Assisting Program at Bowman Gray School of Medicine and currently works with John C. Cranham, DDS, in his private practice in Chesapeake, Va. Ms. Pace is the past president of the Metrolina Dental Assistants Society in Charlotte, N.C. She is also on the advisory board for the dental assistant program at Central Piedmont Community College. Ms. Pace is the past co-editor-in-chief for REALITYTEAM ‘aRTie’ and past editor-in-chief of Contemporary Dental Assisting.Linda Zdanowicz, CDA, CDPMA, is currently the practice administrator for Nigel Morgan, DDS. She has written articles for Dental Economics®, Contemporary Dental Assisting, The Observer, Dental Office, and Dental Assisting Digest™. She has also written a course for the American Dental Assistants Association and has been a presenter at the Holiday Dental Conference and the Florida National Dental Congress. She’s the author of the Exceptional Dental Practice Management blog (www.http://dentalpracticemanagement.typepad.com).Tina M. Calloway, CDA, is a Texas native, who served in the U.S. Navy in 1992 and received her dental assisting training in Marietta, Ga. Now living in North Carolina, she has worked in dentistry for 14 years as a full-time dental assistant, currently serves as president of the Piedmont Dental Assistant Society, and is a clinical assisting consultant. Ms. Calloway is a member of the North Carolina Dental Assistant Association and the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA). She is also an award-winning graduate of the Dale Carnegie Organization, an advisory board member of Dental Assisting Digest™ and Inside Dental Assisting magazines with several published articles. She is a member of the Speaking Consulting Network and the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry’s Team Advisory Council. Ms. Calloway has also been a guest lecturer at the Thomas P. Hinman Meeting, the Holiday Dental Conference, the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, and PennWell’s Professional Dental Assisting Conference.