Aimee Gaspari is the dental assisting program director at YTI Career Institute's Capital Region campus in Mechanicsburg, Penn. Gaspari, who lives nearby in the town of York, has six years of experience as an instructor, all with YTI. In college she completed a dental assisting program and later earned her bachelor's degree in social science with a concentration in education.
CareerColleges.com reached out to Gaspari to gain insight into her role as a dental assistant instructor and see what advice she has for those interested in pursuing an education in dental assisting.
Q. How did you end up teaching this program?
A. Teaching was always my passion. I have worked in the dental field for 18 years, and education was always something that I loved -- part of my job with the patients was education. I later went into new-equipment sales and training, but I always loved teaching and had that desire for it. Somebody recommended me to YTI, and here I am.
Q. As an instructor, how do you measure success of a dental assisting program?
A. The success of any program comes with staying current and keeping students abreast of what is going on. We are in a technology-based field, and there is a lot of new equipment and new materials. People also are keeping their teeth a lot longer than they used to.
We are not only teaching students the hard skills they need to be a dental assistant, but also the soft ones like patient communication and how to relate to patients of all different types. It is important for students to understand how to help patients and make them feel more comfortable. Teaching students this makes them successful, and if they are successful so is the program.
Q. How can students best prepare for the challenges of the program?
A. On the education side, coming into it there is not a whole lot of preparation they have to do. We have students from high school graduates to people starting a second career. We are getting students from ages 17 to 60 years old. If a student has had an anatomy or psychology class that is a benefit so they aren't learning the information for the first time, but the program is designed to give them the fundamentals regardless. In the dental assisting field there aren't any prerequisites they would absolutely need to have; they will get it in the program.
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Q. Are there specific skills or work experience/background that will help prospective students?
A. There are a lot of transferable skills that students can have. It's good if they have worked in retail, or if they have experience waiting tables or in nursing or retirement homes, because they have been working with people. They have a better transition into the patient-care aspect of the field from that customer-service environment. Ultimately as a dental assistant that is your job. Students that come from those backgrounds have similar skill sets that will give them a bigger advantage.
Q. How do you keep up-to-date with the latest changes to dental practices?
A. We have a twice-a-year advisory board that comes into the school, and we meet with them. The board consists of former students and current dental professionals, including dentists, dental assistants and hygienists.
I'm also the vice president for our local dental assisting chapter, and that helps me keep current with legal changes. I also go to seminars and conventions both locally and nationally, and that gives me the chance to be in front of the supply companies and people who are putting out new products. We can see the products that are coming into the field firsthand and use them and practice with them to make sure they are effective. There are tons of changes, but we make changes through the advisory board. We always try to stay current because that makes our students coming out of the program more employable before they actually go out into the field.
Q. What types of internship or volunteer work do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?
A. We definitely recommend that they get out into the field. As part of our curriculum we have students job shadow at a dental office so they have the advantage of seeing it (dental assisting) firsthand. We also work with some of the local missions in the area -- we have two missions 15 minutes from the school, and we have students participate and volunteer at those locations as part of their schooling.
Q. What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?
A. The American Dental Assisting Association. The way it is set up, when students join as a member of the ADAA they actually get three memberships in one. They get membership to the ADAA, to their (state) dental assisting association, and to their local dental assisting association. That way they get more bang for their buck.
Q. Do you recommend any books or blogs to your students to help them learn about dental assisting?
A. The only thing outside of textbooks is a dental assisting magazine, The Dental Assistant Journal It is a bi-monthly magazine.
Q. Do you have any experience incorporating newer educational technologies into your courses?
A. We do, within the actual didactic lessons. We have Smart Boards that we use, and we also have our "clickers." If the instructor is using PowerPoint, the instructor can interject questions into that PowerPoint so that during the lecture there is review.
Students use the clickers to anonymously answer questions, and the instructor can show the answer and see how many people got it right. Students have the safety of answering without having to raise their hand or be put on the spot. We have gotten really great feedback from students. We also use a lot of great interactive online resources from the publisher that help, especially with anatomy or radiology where there is a lot of labeling and identifying.
Q. From your own experience, what are some fundamental characteristics a student must possess to achieve success in the program?
A. They definitely need to be outgoing and people persons. They also have to have a very high level of professionalism. We are dealing with a wide range of patients of all different ethnicities and cultures, and they really have to have a high way of carrying themselves. Patients are looking to you for their care and health. You also need to have compassion and empathy for patients, as well as understanding. We have patients that have not been to a dentist for 30 years. We need to have the compassion to say, "It doesn't matter; you are here today and that is all that matters."
Q. What real-world experience do students get during school? Do they practice on real patients?
A. Students do an externship program. They spend six months in-house in lecture and labs learning the materials -- the program is nine months -- and the last three months are all out in the field. Students go to two offices, and they will be at those offices full-time working as dental assistants so by the time they are eligible for employment they will have three months of experience under their belt in addition to any volunteering they would have done.
They also will do different clinics on campus, like bleaching clinics or radiology clinics on live patients. We also do pediatrics and allow all of our students to bring their children in. It helps so the kids aren't scared of going to the dentist. All of those are areas where students get real-world experience.
Q. What is your outlook on the future of dental assisting?
A. The outlook is very promising; dental assisting has been an in-demand field for quite some time. It is always a necessity. Also in our field we have seen the medical and dental fields combine, where before they were always looked at as two separate entities. If people are not going to the dentist and they have oral health care problems it could affect them (medically). Our field is very, very promising because of that fact.
Also, dental assistants are the heart of the practice. When you make an appointment, it is a dental assistant that you talk to. When you have questions about insurance, or the person who does your X-rays or takes you back to room or sterilizes the instruments -- all of those duties are performed by a dental assist.
Q. What advice would you give students who are thinking about going into this field?
A. Go shadow in an office to really see what you will be doing. Look at different schools and see what the best fit is for you. Also, you should really take a look at yourself and see what characteristics you bring to the field.
Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of CareerColleges.com or any other organization.