Inside Dental Assisting
Lori Paschall, CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, FADAA
Irmo, South Carolina
After a day of making sales calls for her job as Hu-Friedy Regional Account Manager, Lori Paschall found time to attend a local dental assistants meeting. She was glad she did. Paschall saw something of herself in the new local president—a desire to lead and make a difference.
“Before the meeting, I whispered in her ear, ‘You know how to find me. Call me. Let’s sit down. I don’t know it all. But I will be happy to give you some tips.’ That’s what Janelle did for me all those years ago,” Paschall says.
Paschall was remembering her own mentor, Janelle Drake, a past president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), a woman Paschall affectionately calls her “other mother.” Today, Paschall may be at what many consider to be the top of the dental assisting profession. She is in the midst of her term as ADAA president and has an impressive list of dental assisting credits to her name: Certified Dental Assistant, a Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant, Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant, and a Fellow of the ADAA. Now working on her Mastership with the ADAA, she jokingly calls herself a “CE junkie.” She has also received several professional awards, including one in 2011 from the South Carolina Dental Association for the dental team member award. “I was nominated by a doctor who I have never worked for clinically,” she says. “That was the most exciting award I have ever received.”
Although Paschall has spent the past 10 years as a sales representative in the dental industry, she considers herself to be a dental assistant, choosing to remain active in her local and national dental assistant organizations and volunteering for the South Carolina Dental Access Day. She has been a dental assistant for more than 25 years.
“Even my husband will say to me sometimes, ‘You aren’t a dental assistant anymore. So why do you do this?’ I am still a dental assistant. I may not be sitting clinically anymore. But I am a dental assistant,” she says. “My first love always was and always will be clinical dental assisting.” She believes making the profession better for dental assistants who come after her, including her daughter Robyn, who is also a dental assistant, is well worth every minute she spends volunteering her free time to the profession. “That’s why I do it. There were people who came before me who blazed the trail for me to get where I am. Somebody did that for me, and it’s time to carry that torch on. I don’t think I am going to be the be-all, end-all—I’m not. But whatever I can do to help move it forward so that the next generation can pick up the ball and continue to run with it, that’s what I am going to do.”
As her platform as ADAA president, Paschall is driving membership, encouraging the country’s dental assistants to band together and join with their professional organization to make the profession stronger.
“I have said, ‘It’s not my year; it’s our year.’ This is not about me. It’s about the organization and it’s about dental assistants and it’s about what we need to be successful. It’s about what we need to be professionals. We have to have more voices singing in the choir in order to get things done, like mandatory credentialing one day, which is what everybody would like to see,” she says, noting that the U.S. has almost 300,000 dental assistants, many of whom are not ADAA members. “It’s not going to happen this year. I’m just getting the party started.”
Paschall describes her career journey as a series of opportunities. She became a dental assistant because she wanted to work in the healthcare field but “was way too squeamish to be a nurse,” she says. Dental hygiene didn’t appeal to her. “I couldn’t see myself sitting in the same room doing the same thing day in and day out. So dental assisting seemed like a good fit.”
Paschall was attending school to be a dental assistant in Florida, but had to leave the program because her husband, Don, had a career opportunity in South Carolina. So once Paschall obtained her first dental assisting job in her new home state, she contacted the local technical college about earning her first Dental Assisting National Board certification.
“My certifications were personal accomplishments for me,” she says. “Many dental assistants will never have the opportunity to go to a university and get a bachelor’s degree, whether by choice or circumstances. For these folks, myself included, obtaining that ADAA Fellowship was the pinnacle of dental education, and because I don’t feel that I am finished, I am working toward my Masters.”
Paschall had the chance to understand practice management when a dentist hired her as a clinical dental assistant to help him rebuild his practice. “We built this practice together, which really excited me because it gave me the opportunity to have ownership, so to speak. I was very fortunate to be able to do that,” says Paschall.
Never one to sit still, Paschall soon branched into a sales career after forging a relationship with the president of Atlanta Dental Supply. As a new sales person, she found it challenging to make inroads in a world that was always so comfortable for her. Soon, though, she devised a strategy.
“Even though I knew these dental teams and they knew me, they have relationships with their own sales people. So it was very difficult at first. I just had to find my way and be that support person who can bring the office what it needed,” she says, noting that she was respectful of other relationships. “I just said that if they don’t have what you are looking for, all that I ask is that you remember me.”
She finds being a sales person with a dental assisting background is an asset. “Sometimes I think I might be the world’s worst sales rep because I am a dental assistant, and because I have been in the position of having to order supplies and work within a budget. I’m very sensitive to that. I am going to do whatever I can to make sure these dental teams are getting the best deals for whatever they want,” she says. “There have been times I have talked someone out of buying something because I knew they just weren’t going to like it. I want them to trust me and know that I truly am working in their best interests. I have taken care of doctors my entire adult life. That hasn’t changed. It’s just the manner in which I am doing it now.”
Paschall urges dental assistants to become a part of the ADAA because of the myriad opportunities it can present in networking, professional growth, leadership skills, and effecting positive change in the profession.
“The profession is growing in a different direction now with expanded functions and duties, and we have to figure out the needs and wants of our members and perspective members. Just because we have always done it this way doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it,” she says. “We need to find a way to make sure that we stay relevant in the industry, allowing our organization to truly be the people who make dental assisting a profession.”