Inside Dental Assisting
2010 Dental Assistant of the Year Sponsored by Colgate
When Patricia Pepe, CDA, relays the chain of events that led her to dental assisting, she says, “I believe I was meant to be here. It began as something on the side, but it turned into a career that I love. It’s a joy to wake up and know I’m going to work.” Pepe’s commitment to her patients and enthusiasm for her profession—qualities emphasized by the people who nominated her—brought her to the attention of the selection committee for the 2010 Dental Assistant of the Year, sponsored by Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals.
Pepe began her college career as a biology major. To put herself through school, she applied to the dental practice of Gerard DeSapio, DDS, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to work at the front desk, doing the billing. Occasionally, when they were short of staff, she would assist. “They were willing to train me,” Pepe says. “So I thought, okay, let me get in here and see how I do. It was difficult in the beginning—everything is when you’re learning it for the first time. Then it just came naturally.”
The more she assisted, the more Pepe began to love the field, especially working one-on-one with the patient and the doctor. As her knowledge grew, she decided to attend the Dental Studies Institute in Fairfield, New Jersey, first getting her New Jersey x-ray license and then the CDA credential from the Dental Assisting National Board. “It was exciting to get my x-ray license. Then I realized that the CDA was the next step, because I wanted to learn more,” she explains. She wanted to work more directly with patients, explaining their oral health to them, and felt that having this license would give her the opportunity to be of more service. Pepe is now studying for her RDA, a New Jersey state credential. “I’m also learning how to make temporary crowns in the office. I find that fascinating,” she says.
In her 7 years at the practice, Pepe has not missed a day of work. “I’m always here,” she says. “I would feel bad if a patient came in and I wasn’t here to help. I’ve gotten to know my patients, from when they first started, as their families grow and their children come in. I enjoy seeing them, addressing their needs, and helping them to understand their treatment, and then following up to make sure they had a great dental experience. When I call them, I’ll ask about their families or what’s going on in their lives first, before we get to the dentistry part—Are you taking care of your teeth, are you flossing?”
Pepe says her patients are kind and thoughtful. “Their motivation to improve has inspired me, made me what I am today. Some patients come in with really poor oral health, and I want to help them in the best way that I can. And I encourage them to come back, because it’s for their total health.”
Pepe’s personal touch includes advocating for her patients. “If there’s an emergency and the schedule is packed, I’ll say to the doctor, ‘We have to see this patient.’ So the doctor will squeeze them in. No matter what time it is, we do it.”
According to Dr. DeSapio, Pepe is extensively involved in many aspects of the practice. “We’re very proud of her—she goes above and beyond anticipating the needs of the dentists and the patients,” he says. “Patricia has a keen memory and is aware of everything that goes on in the practice. She’s very empathetic, which helps the patients relax. When Patricia’s in the office, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“The staff and the doctors here are amazing,” Pepe adds. “I love coming to work every day. We all get along great. It’s like family—even when we’re extremely busy.” In this practice, Pepe works closely with six dentists who are all different in their set-ups, so she had to master each of them. “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy,” she says, “but as soon as I managed it, the workflow became faster for us, as well as more efficient for our patients.” Pepe also keeps the office productive by ordering and managing the supplies, which is one of the core responsibilities of the dental assistant position.
Pepe also makes a difference by working part-time at a community-based free clinic reaching underserved populations. “A lot of these patients don’t have insurance—they’ve lost their jobs in this economy. We’re doing free screenings and cleanings. It’s such a beautiful thing that happens there. The patients are so happy, feeling that somebody is actually taking the time to help them. The people we’ve seen there, they need so much work. Every time a patient leaves, I wish we could do something more. I ask the dentists, is there anything else we can do? This is the first step. We will be opening up more services at the clinic, to do fillings and other procedures, which is good. I love working there.”
When she learned that she had been awarded Dental Assistant of the Year, Pepe was thrilled to have the opportunity to represent her profession. “I would like to thank the people who nominated me for this honor,” she says. “The people here, my family, husband, and my patients—they’ve supported me every step of the way, through all this. Especially my parents—they taught me everything. They always told me to be kind and respectful to everybody. As long as you do good, you are good. That advice has stuck with me.”
Pepe has found a home in dentistry and encourages others to explore the options dental assisting has to offer. “Definitely go for it. I would tell anybody to look into this field. The opportunities are excellent—from the very beginning to wherever you decide to go in the future. So many doors have opened up for me. I really am happy to be here, and I welcome others to join us.”