The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That straight line is exactly what Melissa Mauldin made between her high school graduation in 2002 and the nearest place she could begin her general education and prerequisites needed to get into a Dental Hygiene program.
She never had any doubts about the career she wanted. Melissa had watched her mom, Sandy Cannella, enjoy the best of two worlds all her young life. As a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) Sandy got to set her own work days and hours, so that she had plenty of time at home with her family. She could comfortably balance a part-time career she enjoyed with the needs of a growing family. That soft schedule appealed to Melissa very much.
“I grew up watching her, and I could see how flexible it was for her to be able to be with her family and work part-time at a job she enjoyed so much,” says Melissa. “She is still working, at sixty-five, and is able to see a lot of patients she has had for years.”
Melissa has no problem with the following-in-Mom’s-footsteps concept. Especially now that Melissa has two young children and a husband who need lots of her time, she feels her decision to become a Dental Hygienist was absolutely the right one.
But, she was attracted to more than the convenience that this part-time, well-paying job afforded her. “I really love science, so those classes were really appealing to me,” she says. “Also I like to be around people and work closely with others.”
SJVC in Visalia gave Melissa exactly what she was looking for in a top-tier Dental Hygiene program. “I researched different DH programs and SJVC’s was not based on a lottery, but on grades and interviews,” says Melissa. “I did not want to worry about getting picked in a lottery, and SJVC was closer to where I lived.”
Melissa didn’t expect anything to be handed to her. She had spent a year volunteering once or twice a week in a local dentist’s office, doing things like sterilizing instruments, just to get some work experience. It also solidified her feelings that this was the profession and environment that would make her happy in her career. “It was like, OK, I enjoy this,” she says, remembering her relief.
Melissa started her Dental Hygiene program just a week after enrolling. She met two other new DH students, Jaime and Amanda, and they all decided to rent a place together near the college.
“It all happened really fast,” says Melissa. “A graduating Dental Hygiene student had left fliers at the school about the house she was leaving and wanting to rent, and we decided to take it.”
What Melissa did not realize at the time is that she had also become a part of a solid DH study team – and friends for life. There were many late-night study sessions fueled by lots of coffee.
“Going in to it, a lot of students were already Dental Assistants, so I had to kind of catch up,” says Melissa. “I had never taken x-rays, but it pretty much evened out after the first month.”
Melissa was a little surprised at the camaraderie of the class. “You really do bond with your class because you go through so much together,” she says. “And, you get to know some of the patients you meet and get attached to them.”
Graduation was in the Fall of 2006, and Melissa focused on passing her national board exam. She had a Dental Hygiene position waiting for her as soon as she got her license.
Now Melissa is enjoying the life she always envisioned. She works part-time for two dental offices and takes great pleasure in treating and educating her patients.
“When I have someone in my chair every six months, it is a good time to talk with them about their health,” say Melissa, who likes the long-term relationships she gets to establish and nurture.
She also gets to spend lots of time with daughters, 2 ½ year old Kindall and 5-month old Quinn, and Melissa’s husband, Chris, who is a counselor for the Department of Corrections. They stay busy in the summer, swimming in the pool and all the “normal stuff to do in the back yard.” Melissa even has a little time to ride her horse, Gidget, who lives on her parents’, Sandy and Dave’s, country acreage.
She has the life she made that straight line to enjoy: wife, mother, daughter and Registered Dental Hygienist. Just like her mama.