Inside Dental Assisting
Claudia Pohl, CDA, RDA, FADAA, BVEd
President, American Dental Assistants Association
One major advantage of dental assisting is that it’s a multifaceted profession, explains Claudia Pohl, CDA, RDA, FADAA, BVEd, current president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA). “I really do love the field—the work is very creative,” she says. “Dental assisting provides a fabulous opportunity to use skills in a helping profession and it’s a great foundation for people who want to be challenged. They can move laterally in the field or vertically—there are many outlets for our abilities and chances to serve people.”
Pohl arrived at dental assisting at the urging of a high school counselor. She attended a 2-year program at the local community college and found it rewarding. “Afterwards I interned at my local dentist’s office—the one I had grown up with,” she says. “He hired me for my first position as a dental assistant. I really enjoyed it there. He was a fabulous clinician—he did his own gold work—and a good person to work with.”
At that time California had an open dental practice act, Pohl explains. “He saw in me certain skills and abilities and gave me the freedom to use them—trained me so that at one point I was doing preliminary wax ups on gold crowns. I was doing casting, preliminary seatings and trimming dentures—not terribly common in the 70s. This experience really broadened my view of dentistry and dental assisting. This was a wonderful entry into the field—really foundational for me. Honestly, at the time I thought that’s what all dental offices were like for dental assistants. Years later, I had the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated what he brought to the beginnings of my career.”
Pohl remained at the practice for about 5 years, then took a few years off to have children. “That’s the beauty of dental assisting—freedom and flexibility,” she says. “I also spent a few years temping as a dental assistant, which was great fun. I was able to work in a number of dental offices and experience how different practices work. That was knowledge I could take with me into the next phase of my career.”
At the suggestion of one of her former instructors, Pohl moved into teaching. She taught part time for 15 years, went back into clinical assisting, and then accepted a full-time teaching position. Through her teaching experience, Pohl found opportunities to prepare her students with the knowledge that she had been given and to see them grow in their careers. “Some are first-time college students; others have failed in school before and seeing them succeed is amazing,” she says.
In reflecting on ADAA’s role in her development, Pohl says the organization allowed her to develop contacts and friendships with “fabulous” people, not only in her area but also across the United States. “The ADAA benefits me personally because of the richness that it brings to my life, in addition to the professional benefits. I’ve had opportunities to develop leadership skills and gain knowledge that I can use in my teaching, when I develop curriculum—and I can also use these contacts to help my students.”
The ADAA is a multifaceted member organization that provides working dental assistants with many resources to help them grow their careers. On a local or regional level, the societies or study groups facilitate relationships with other working dental assistants, helping them to find work and interact with people in similar situations. Dental assistants can also find continuing education on a local level. “Statewide, the ADAA is out there working on our behalf to promote and advance our careers, usually through legislation—bringing about necessary change,” Pohl explains. “For example, back in the 1970s, the California Dental Assistants Association was instrumental in bringing about the RDA to the state. Of course, the national organization has additional resources to help every assistant—clinical or business—improve the profession.”
Networking is another advantage that the organization offers members, from the local to state to national level. “Relationships that started out as contacts and networking have turned into friendships that I’ve had for 30-35 years, all over the world,” Pohl says. “I can call people and find out what’s happening, ask for and give advice—even giving tips and tricks on dental materials. For example, when I went through accreditation for the first time, I had a contact who offered to send me some material—and she sent me a box of her own documents to help me get through the process.”
Pohl believes that if it hadn’t been for networking through the ADAA, she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Thinking back, I realize that these relationships were the key. It was the relationship that I had with my teacher that got me into teaching. It was the relationships that I made on the local level that got me involved in the state level, and the state level got me involved on the national level—those relationships helped develop me into a leadership role. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.”
Through its new student initiative, the ADAA is further developing its networking model. “The student initiative started at a meeting in Florida a year ago—during a break we were talking about students and how we can better address their interests,” Pohl explains. “After all, they are our future. The idea was born in about 15 minutes. We put a focus group together before we left Florida, and it grew from there.
“This student initiative grew out of a commitment to meet the students’ needs in a real and tangible way—a paradigm that’s different from ours because it’s a different generation. The initiative presents a mechanism to hear students’ perspectives so that we can provide value to the younger ADAA members or dental assistants who are not yet members. We want them to find the same benefits in ADAA that we found, even though it might look a little different. The initiative involves developing Student Chapters at the grass roots level in dental assisting programs in conjunction with faculty support and—ideally—the local or state organization of the ADAA. This way, they’re all working together to provide support and encouragement, along with education and leadership opportunities for student members while they’re still in school. Then they will have an established relationship with the local societies, so after graduation they can merge into the organization and have an outlet for the skills they developed while in school.”
Another part of the initiative is the development of a Student Trustee to sit on the ADAA Board of Trustees and provide ideas and input from students’ viewpoint. “So from the top level, there will also be a new paradigm and these ideas will filter down,” Pohl explains. “In conjunction with that is the development of a Council on Student Relations. We’ve had some ad hoc committees, but this is an official Council on the Board of Trustees. It has student members and educators that act as liaisons—again, in an effort to develop ADAA programs that would be meaningful for students. We’re very excited about this opportunity. It really has the potential to address the needs of the students, while strengthening the Association and developing the leaders for our future.”
Ultimately, Pohl believes that no matter what role the dental assistant takes—clinical assistant, business assistant, or teacher, ADAA member or not—there are many different avenues to mentor other people in the profession. “The ADAA is here to provide the resources to become the best you can be, then the opportunity to be a friend, colleague, teacher, or role model for others,” she adds.
“Dentistry itself is such a nice blend of interests—some science, some technology, and then the compassion/healing/helping aspect of it. Dental assisting combines all these different areas together, and for me personally, it becomes an outlet for those various aspects of my personality,” Pohl concludes. “Dental assisting provides so many options to use the knowledge and skills that I’ve been given. I would never need to look anywhere else.”
If you know people in the dental assisting community who should be highlighted as our cover story for their dedication and contributions to the profession, please contact Catherine Paulhamus at 215-504-1275, ext 213, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.