RF dentist takes schooling into his own hands

? Training assistants can be costly, time-consuming and fruitless, but schooled assistants stick with it, dentist says.

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Frustrated over the hiring and training of new employees since the disappearance of many dental assistance training schools, Jayne Siou used to say at least once a year, "I wish someone would open a dental assistants' school."

That's exactly what she and Dr. John Hartmann did.

Hartmann, founder and president of the Careers in Dental Assisting School, practices dentistry at his River Forest office, 7700 W. Madison St., and like Siou, his dental assistant office manager, was frustrated about finding good assistants.

They weren't alone. Other dentists had the same problem, Hartmann said. Since the early 1980s, at least five schools have gone the way of pulling teeth out with a string and a closing door. Just two other schools remain for training dental assistants in the Chicago metro area, Siou said.

That meant dental offices often needed to provide on-the-job training to new assistants, a costly and time-consuming process. Frequently, employees would leave amid or shortly after being trained and they would be "back to ground zero," whereas students coming out of school are more motivated to stick with the job, Hartmann said.

Careers in Dental Assisting School, which Hartmann named to match CDA, or Certified Dental Assistant, takes what was once a year-long program and condenses it into a 10-week, 80-hour course. Classes combining academic and practical aspects of the field are held on Saturdays, so high school students and people with jobs can attend.

Denise McDonald, 23, always wanted to be a dental assistant.

"I couldn't get my foot in the door because I didn't have any experience," she said. A temp agency connected her to the CDA School, and Hartmann hired her two weeks before she graduated.

"I love what I do," she said. Yesterday was her last day at Hartmann's office, as she recently bought a house in Sycamore, and found a job closer to home.

The experience at CDA was "great," McDonald said.

"Jayne is full of knowledge of this stuff. It was very hands-on. She made it very easy to understand things," McDonald said.

Dental assisting combines computer and people skills with dental practice knowledge in a way that's always changing, Siou said.

"Every day is entirely different. Every person is different, every mouth is different," she said. "It doesn't get boring."

And unlike medical jobs in hospitals, working in a dental office is a smaller, family-oriented atmosphere, Siou said.

Siou is the primary instructor at the school. Dental assisting educators aren't trained to teach. "They're just good at what they do," Siou said.

She said making the transition has been an exciting career challenge for her. "It's much more rewarding that being a dental assistant."

The course costs about $2,500, and graduates can expect to make $12 to $15 an hour at their first jobs. Some assistants decide to return to school to become dental hygienists, a better paying position.

The school, in its second year, is educating its fifth class, each of which having about 10-12 students. Hartmann said students come from all over the Chicago metro area, and often return to work near where they live.Contact : dcarter@wjinc.com

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