Monica Nichols, Judson High School, Live Oak, Texas
As the Dental Internship Coordinator at Judson High School, Monica Nichols instills her enthusiastic attitude and passion for community service in her students which provides them with an impressive resume and skill set for the future. “I came from the dental field and I learned best hands-on so I knew I could only teach them so much in a classroom. You can only learn so much from a dummy or student peer,” says Nichols about her decision to build a program with the expressed initiative to provide her students with an atmosphere that is as close to the real world as possible. This is the 7th year for the Judson Dental program and thus far has proved nothing but successful for its students. The program boasts a 100% success rate with students leaving the program with a RDA (Registered Dental Assistant) license, nitrous oxide and CPR certifications, as well as OSHA 10-Hour safety training.
“I feel like [workplace safety training] sheds a spotlight on them needing to be safe in order to take care of others. We don’t necessarily focus on [the students] personally at times and it does that for them. We show them how to perform a task step by step, and now we can show them how to protect themselves so they can help others,” explains Nichols, “If we don’t focus on ourselves too then we can end up hurting someone or ourselves.”
Nichols and her students are rarely in the classroom which is why she says that online OSHA safety training works well within her program because her students must learn safety precautions as soon as possible. They are exposed to a lot of patient to patient contact in the healthcare field for which she expects her students to give quality care, but must know not to put themselves in an unsafe environment. “We can only give what we have and if we’re depleted mentally or physically, we can’t do our job. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.”
A vast portion of Nichols’ program is dedicated toward community service and serving those in need. The first clinical rotation for Nichols’ students is working in a nursing home where they are responsible for the dental care of the residents. With over 96 residents at the nursing home, students are in charge of general dental hygiene as well as denture upkeep and repair so that dental health does not fall by the wayside. From January until late May, the students continue their hands-on education in general dentistry, orthodontic, or oral surgery offices based on their interests and expressed preferences. Nichols believes it is part of her duty to seek out offices where her students will be able to grow and nurture their skill sets and interests.
With a fully functioning dental lab, Nichols and her students open up clinics to the community where they provide free sealant applications, teething cleanings and other dental hygiene procedures for those who may not have insurance or do not have the resources to afford it on their own. They enjoy providing these services along with free toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to promote good oral hygiene. They have partnered with dental facilities locally and perform extractions and other dental procedures all free of charge while gaining invaluable training for the future. Currently, Nichols has many dental interns who are gainfully employed in pediatric dental offices and even oral surgery and endodontic offices. A majority of her students graduate and continue on to become dental hygienists, oral surgeons, orthodontists and many more pathways.
Nichols says that her goal at the end of each year is to make sure her students are armed with the tools for success. She shares that her program has a 95% employability success rate and attributes part of that to making her kids marketable with licenses, credentials and an impressive resume. “I believe that it is a great segue into college or a career. We’re moving away from just knowledge-based learning and it’s essential that on the job training play a role in moving forward. They have learned the material, practiced it, and now they can move forward.”