ADHA Access May/June 2013 : Page 26

“ I was raised in a family that was lower income, so I felt I could give EDFNWRSRSXODWLRQVWKDWGLGQ¶WKDYHDVPXFKDV,KDG&#0f;DIWHU¿QLVKLQJ dental hygiene school. I felt so blessed and so lucky to be making a decent income and be independent. I wanted to help others obtain basic health care. That spoke to me, just from my background.” —Michelle Panico, RDH, MA, DHSc M ichelle Panico, RDH, MA, DHSc , has always thought of f herself f as being very detail oriented. And one gets that sense after r speaking with her. At every step of f her r profes-sional journey, she has had a plan, an approach to acquire the career r she always wanted and the rewards that come with it, whether r they are professional advancement or r per-sonal satisfaction. However, one also gets the sense that Panico knows better than anyone else that things rarely go according to plan. “As a young college student, I knew I wanted to have a career r in health care,” ” Panico said. The original plan was to go to school to become a cardiologist. And she would have, if it weren’t for r her r family’s dental hygienist, who encouraged her r to try out dental hygiene as a possible career r option. It ZDVWKLVHQFRXUDJHPHQWWKDWFRQYLQFHGKHUWRWDNHKHU¿UVW detour r – a job as a dental assistant. “I fell in love with it,” ” she said. Shortly thereafter, she was able to take a volunteer r position at a hospital in their cardiology department. And she knew immediately what her true calling was. “I just didn’t feel the same spark or r passion for r it as I did working as a dental assistant,” ” she said. “I realized I just needed to follow my heart. “In cardiology, you’re in a surgery room, and the patient is under r anesthesia, so there wasn’t that interaction with the patient. When I got into dental assisting, I just loved that patient interaction and being able to help and heal and hav-ing that dialogue with patients.” Following her r heart has led her r to her r current position at the A.T. Still University Arizona School of f Dentistry & Oral Health, where she works in two worlds – education and pub-lic health. And though the hybrid career r may seem strange WRVRPH&#0f;IRU3DQLFR&#0f;LWLVFRQ¿UPDWLRQRIORQJ
KHOGSHUVRQDO beliefs. “I felt like I wanted to serve or r help people,” ” she said. “If you can do that in your r career, it’s that much better r to be paid to be doing what you love and giving back to people.” The plan was now to go to dental hygiene school and give back to her r community. After r graduating, she immediately went into clinical work. The idea was to use her r experience in a traditional setting to hone her r skills, and then move into public health. But again, this phase of f her r career r didn’t last as long as she intended. “Although I enjoyed it, I knew that those four r walls of f my operatory couldn’t hold me,” ” she said. “I felt a greater r calling for r public health.” She found work in a sealant program, and again her r con-YLFWLRQVZHUHUHDI¿UPHG±SXEOLFKHDOWKLVZKHUHVKHZDQWHG WREH'XULQJWKLVWLPH&#0f;VKHZDV¿QLVKLQJKHUEDFKHORU¶VGH -gree completion program when a new opportunity presented itself. One of f the classes gave students the opportunity to complete an internship in which they could teach at another dental hygiene program. Panico signed up, and found a new calling. “Again, I fell in love with the teaching aspect. And I think hygienists sometimes innately have that in them. We’re edu-FDWRUV&#0f;VRLWVHHPHGWR¿WZHOOIRUPH´ For r a brief f moment, Panico began to wonder r how she could make both of f her r passions work. She always felt a strong connection to public health, but she also took well to education. Instead of f choosing between the two, she decided to see if f she could make both of f them work in one career. “I thought, well, I like education, and I like public health – how do I make this work where I can get the best of f both worlds in one job?” Now the plan was to get a master’s in administration with an emphasis in public health. At this point in a career, many might have settled down, made a choice in their r career r path and started work at hon-LQJWKHLUVSHFL¿FVNLOOV%XW3DQLFRZDVPRWLYDWHGWRGRPRUH ZLWKKHUFDUHHUWKDQPRVWEHFDXVHRIDVWURQJ&#0f;LQÀXHQWLDO family upbringing that taught her r the importance of f helping others. “I was raised in a family that was lower r income, so I felt I could give back to populations that didn’t have as much as ,KDG&#0f;DIWHU¿QLVKLQJGHQWDOK\JLHQHVFKRRO,IHOWVREOHVVHG and so lucky to be making a decent income and be indepen-dent. I wanted to help others obtain basic health care. That spoke to me, just from my background.” $QGHGXFDWLRQDOZRUN¿WULJKWLQZLWKWKLVPHQWDOLW\ ³:KDWDWWUDFWHGPHWRWKHHGXFDWLRQDO¿HOGLVWKDW\RX get to really shape the students. I think it’s energizing to see DGHQWDOK\JLHQHVWXGHQWJURZDQGWRVHHKRZ\RXLQÀXHQFH or r impact them in positive ways as they go throughtheir educational process.” ,WZDVQ¶WXQWLOVKH¿UVWVWDUWHGDWWKH$UL]RQD6FKRRO of f Dentistry & Oral Health that everything began to come together. And even then, it didn’t start out that way. Her ¿UVWUROHZDVDFOHULFDOUROH±VKHZDVUHVSRQVLEOHIRUFUHDW -ing spreadsheets and keeping track of f programs and their schedules. It was a task that she acknowledged she did not excel in, but it was a foot in the door, and soon her r real talents emerged. “Pretty soon, my boss recognized that I wasn’t good at the clerical stuff, but he noticed my interaction with the students. I was helping them out with some of f their r projects that they have to do in the community.” As it turned out, the class these students were taking happened to be one her r supervisor r was responsible for. Before long, Panico left her r clerical work and started as an assistant in the class. And from there, her r career r has grown – as the associate director r of f Dentistry in the Community, she now teaches many of f her r own classes and is involved with the planning and implementation of f a variety of f public 26 MAY-JUN 2013 access

Working

Michelle Panico

"I was raised in a family that was lower income, so I felt I could give back to populations that didn't have as much as I had, after finishing dental hygiene school. I felt so blessed and so lucky to be making a decent income and be independent. I wanted to help others obtain basic health care. That spoke to me, just from my background."<br /> <br /> Mliic helle Panico, RDH, MA, DHSc, has always thought of herself as being very detail oriented. And one gets that sense after speaking with her. At every step of her professional journey, she has had a plan, an approach to acquire the career she always wanted and the rewards that come with it, whether they are professional advancement or personal satisfaction.<br /> <br /> However, one also gets the sense that Panico knows better than anyone else that things rarely go according to plan.<br /> <br /> "As a young college student, I knew I wanted to have a career in health care," Panico said. The original plan was to go to school to become a cardiologist. And she would have, if it weren't for her family's dental hygienist, who encouraged her to try out dental hygiene as a possible career option. It was this encouragement that convinced her to take her first detour - a job as a dental assistant.<br /> <br /> "I fell in love with it," she said. Shortly thereafter, she was able to take a volunteer position at a hospital in their cardiology department. And she knew immediately what her true calling was.<br /> <br /> "I just didn't feel the same spark or passion for it as I did working as a dental assistant," she said. "I realized I just needed to follow my heart.<br /> <br /> "In cardiology, you're in a surgery room, and the patient is under anesthesia, so there wasn't that interaction with the patient. When I got into dental assisting, I just loved that patient interaction and being able to help and heal and having that dialogue with patients."<br /> <br /> Following her heart has led her to her current position at the A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health, where she works in two worlds - education and public health. And though the hybrid career may seem strange to some, for Panico, it is confirmation of long-held personal beliefs.<br /> <br /> "I felt like I wanted to serve or help people," she said. "If you can do that in your career, it's that much better to be paid to be doing what you love and giving back to people."<br /> <br /> The plan was now to go to dental hygiene school and give back to her community. After graduating, she immediately went into clinical work. The idea was to use her experience in a traditional setting to hone her skills, and then move into public health. But again, this phase of her career didn't last as long as she intended.<br /> <br /> "Although I enjoyed it, I knew that those four walls of my operatory couldn't hold me," she said. "I felt a greater calling for public health."<br /> <br /> She found work in a sealant program, and again her convictions were reaffirmed - public health is where she wanted to be. During this time, she was finishing her bachelor's degree completion program when a new opportunity presented itself. One ofthe classes gave students the opportunity to complete an internship in which they could teach at another dental hygiene program. Panico signed up, and found a new calling.<br /> <br /> "Again, I fell in love with the teaching aspect. And I think hygienists sometimes innately have that in them. We're educators, so it seemed to fit well for me."<br /> <br /> For a brief moment, Panico began to wonder how she could make both of her passions work. She always felt a strong connection to public health, but she also took well to education. Instead of choosing between the two, she decided to see if she could make both of them work in one career.<br /> <br /> "I thought, well, I like education, and I like public health - how do I make this work where I can get the best of both worlds in one job?"<br /> <br /> Now the plan was to get a master's in administration with an emphasis in public health.<br /> <br /> At this point in a career, many might have settled down, made a choice in their career path and started work at honing their specific skills. But Panico was motivated to do more with her career than most because of a strong, influential family upbringing that taught her the importance of helping others.<br /> <br /> "I was raised in a family that was lower income, so I felt I could give back to populations that didn't have as much as I had, after finishing dental hygiene school. I felt so blessed and so lucky to be making a decent income and be independent. I wanted to help others obtain basic health care. That spoke to me, just from my background."<br /> <br /> And educational work fit right in with this mentality.<br /> <br /> "What attracted me to the educational field is that you get to really shape the students. I think it's energizing to see a dental hygiene student grow and to see how you influence or impact them in positive ways as they go through their educational process."<br /> <br /> It wasn't until she first started at the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health that everything began to come together. And even then, it didn't start out that way. Her first role was a clerical role - she was responsible for creating spreadsheets and keeping track of programs and their schedules. It was a task that she acknowledged she did not excel in, but it was a foot in the door, and soon her real talents emerged.<br /> <br /> "Pretty soon, my boss recognized that I wasn't good at the clerical stuff, but he noticed my interaction with the students. I was helping them out with some of their projects that they have to do in the community."<br /> <br /> As it turned out, the class these students were taking happened to be one her supervisor was responsible for-. Before long, Panico left her clerical work and started as an assistant in the class. And from there, her career has grown - as the associate director of Dentistry in the Community, she now teaches many of her own classes and is involved with the planning and implementation of a variety of public health courses. Her work may be more administrative than she originally envisioned - she doesn't get to go out into the field as often as she would like - but her impact on her community cannot be overstated. The path may have changed, but the end goal stayed the same.<br /> <br /> "We think we know what would be good for us and what we want. I really wanted to work in the clinic, but there were different plans, obviously, for me, and that was to not be in the clinic but being one of their faculty and administrators working with their public health program.<br /> <br /> "I couldn't have dreamed that up - I never would have thought that a position like that existed."<br /> <br /> It shouldn't come as any surprise to hear that Panico is still broadening her horizons. She recently finished a doctoral degree in health science with an emphasis in global health, which she would like to use to get involved in planning and executing global health initiatives. She has already begun to implement global relations in her public health courses, educating her students that public health is more than their local community - public health is global health.<br /> <br /> For those who are thinking of a career change, Panico has two important pieces of advice - find a place that shares your values, and be prepared for opportunities.<br /> <br /> "First, find out what you're passionate about. I think it's a personal search - I think you have to look at your personal values and missions. And then look at what population you would like to serve.<br /> <br /> "If your workplace is in conflict with your personal values and your personal mission, I think it makes for a very unhappy career-. Although the pay might be greater, pay doesn't bring that deeper happiness or satisfaction. So I think something I've learned is to really seek out what really fulfills the heart and soul."<br /> <br /> Panico admits that it's not always easy to find a place that is in line with your values that also allows you to pay the bills. She knows better than anyone how plans rarely work out, and because of that, she feels all dental hygienists owe it to themselves to be ready for the unknown, to further their formal education and align themselves with people who share similar values.<br /> <br /> "I think you should prepare for opportunities," she said. "Sometimes I read things about [planning a career] and it's 'Step 1 do this, step 2 do that,' and it's like, well, we all have a different path in life, and the journey is different for all of us. I think you just prepare so you are ready for those opportunities."<br /> <br /> This edition of Working was prepared by Josh Snyder

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