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Inside Dental Assisting
July/Aug 2012
Volume 8, Issue 4

Theresa Groody
Director of Professional Studies
Harcum College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

After a dental assisting career spanning more than 30 years, Theresa Groody, CDA, EFDA, M.Ed., made the news recently when she was appointed to serve a six-year term as the first Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) on the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry. Pennsylvania joins a growing number of states whose board recently expanded to include two additional professional members, and Groody is filling the newly created position for an EDFA. Appointed in September 2011, she will serve on the EFDA and Scope of Practice Committees in addition to attending monthly meetings.

“In Pennsylvania, it has been a long process to get credentialing for EFDA,” she explains. “Performing expanded functions was ‘permitted’ in the 1960s, but was shown not to have the support of the existing dental law. Starting back in 1989, a committee of professionals wanted to protect the concept with some type of credentialing, and we met often to strategize how to meet that goal. We learned the political process, developed legislative backing, and finally drafted a bill. After two years of concerted effort it became law; the next phase was the creation of the State mandated certification examination.” Selected to be a subject matter expert by the testing agency developing and administering the exam, Groody was able to help identify the content areas. “However, I wasn’t permitted to create the questions as I was required to take the exam myself.”

Her dental assisting career began when Groody graduated from Manor College in 1980 with an associate degree in Expanded Function Dental Assisting, eventually followed by a BHS degree from Gwynedd-Mercy College, and a Master’s degree in Instructional Technology from Arcadia University.

“Manor and Harcum College, where I now work, were two of the first in Pennsylvania to grant degree programs in EFDA,” she explains. “So, unlike many assistants who phase into becoming an EFDA, I’ve never had the experience of being a dental assistant without the expanded functions component.”

At first, Groody worked briefly as a Pedo-Ortho EFDA, then she moved on to “one of the most exciting jobs in my career” at University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. “I was part of the Dental Auxiliary Utilization program, training third-year dental students to work efficiently with an assistant,” she says. “As part of the TEAM (Training Expanded Auxiliary Management) program, we had the pleasure of working with 10 senior dental students each week. We taught them how to operate a practice using the EFDA modality, how to hire, schedule, manage employees, etc.

“It was very rewarding and exciting, but grant-funded and not continued. The dentist who was instrumental in getting the grant to run that program opened up his own large practice utilizing several dentists, EFDAs, and specialists.” After Groody worked in that practice for a few years, she was contacted by the program director at Manor about a teaching position.

“Nervous at first as I didn’t consider myself a teacher, I was hesitant to take the position,” Groody says. “But they told me, ‘you know this because you do it every day and that clinical experience is what needs to be passed on.’ I was hired with the stipulation that I obtain my teaching degree.” Groody began teaching in 1983 and spent 10 years at Manor, eventually becoming program director. “But I was still working clinically as well,” she explains. “Through all my teaching positions, I’ve kept up clinically, which I feel is vital as an educator.”

Groody admits that her career journey has taken an unexpected turn. Since 2004, she has worked full time at Harcum College in various roles. “I started teaching dental assisting and EFDA and evolved into a position in Continuing Studies. My title is now the Director of Professional Studies,” she says. “I organize a dental expo every year, selecting speakers, soliciting vendors, and marketing the event, and plan to grow this type of event to other majors at the college. Though no longer a full time dental person, I keep up with dentistry by teaching EFDA on weekends and working in dental offices, and I find both rewarding.”

In her faculty position, Groody enjoys working with the adult students. “They appreciate it more,” she says. “To be accepted into the continuing studies certificate program, students must be an experienced dental assistant already—so they know assisting, are comfortable with patient procedures, and they appreciate the commitment to get to the next level. As an educator, you have the opportunity to help students do just that, which is wonderful. On top of that, being an administrator calls for a lot of creativity and networking—how can we connect better, meet requirements, and learn a bit while we’re at it?”

Her advice to future dental assistants is to do their homework before they enroll in a DA or EFDA program. “I’ve seen too many people pay to attend programs that are not worth the investment, and they find they don’t have the appropriate education to qualify for their board exams or credential,” she explains. “A CODA-accredited program is key. As educators, we know that, but the dental assisting student/parent may not understand what that means. I wish they did. It’s important for us to get the word out.” Beyond checking for CODA accreditation, Groody thinks it’s important to get word of mouth referrals on these programs, and to find out where graduates are employed and if their employers are satisfied. “If I were searching for a dental assisting school, I’d ask the department to identify 10 offices where their alumni work, start making some visits and asking lots of questions,” she says.

Operating out of one’s comfort zone and cultivating past and present working relationships are fundamentals Groody shares with students—attitudes which cross over much more than dentistry. “The dental world is ridiculously small, and you never know when you may need a reference or to contact a former employer. And, learning new things, even though we’re nervous at first, promotes well-being and job fulfillment.” Feeling the same nervousness as when first asked to teach, Groody compares the anxiety to her first dental board meetings. “Though it’s easier to stay complacent, it is rewarding to feel the sense of accomplishment that results from learning board procedures and policies, for example.”

Groody is an appointed curriculum consultant for the ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), traveling once or twice a year to dental assisting programs seeking accreditation as part of the site visiting team. “It’s a really rewarding experience,” she says. “I was trained to review and evaluate the self-study and then confirm findings during the visit. It’s a lot of homework, but the process ultimately builds and maintains the integrity of the profession, as only programs meeting or exceeding the established standards are granted accreditation.”

Reflecting on the direction of dental assisting, Groody believes it is heading toward more credentialing and opportunities for continuing education. “We’re formalizing it, giving it more respect and clout, which will result in more productive, motivated team members” she says.

Over the past year, Groody has been invited to present lectures to assistants and EFDAs, “which has been an honor. It’s refreshing to meet dental assistants attending courses just for the enrichment of it, not because they’re required. They’re just there to be part of the team, learn a new product/procedure, but the result of attending is a more motivated employee. What’s really exciting is that manufacturers are buying into this concept and respecting the assisting profession by offering courses for them.

“The dental assistants of today are digital natives,” Groody explains. “With the dental assisting publications and resources out there on the internet, it’s much easier to attain information. When I find a good web site, I share it with my students by email, posting on Facebook, adding it to my Google site. Some manufacturers—for example, 3M ESPE, Dentsply, Garrison, Caulk, and Kerr—have excellent interactive sites with videos and even free webinars. There are so many tiers to these sites; you could sit there for hours. And that’s the real goal,” she concludes, “to teach people to be lifelong learners.”

Groody expects her own lifelong learning will advance significantly through the unique experience of serving on the state dental board—an experience that she hopes she will be able to use in the future to benefit her colleagues, students, and patients. “It is an exciting time to be in dentistry and I am grateful for opportunities the profession has given me.”

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