As they say, sometimes the most important step you can take in your career is the first one. When it comes to our career paths, we may not know where we want ours to lead early on. When this is the case, we may turn to others for advice. Or sometimes, the advice we didn’t even realize we were seeking comes our way when we least expect it, at just the right time.
This scenario was true more than 30 years ago for Bonnie J. Bazydlo, CDA, of Victor, New York. As a recent high school graduate, she didn’t yet have her sights set on a career path.
It was Bonnie’s mother (pictured above with Bonnie and at right with Bonnie’s brother) who suggested then that she consider becoming a dental assistant, and who even signed her up to interview with a local program through Onondaga County [New York] Employment and Training Agency (OCETA).
“In July 1980, I had just graduated from high school,” Bonnie explains. “My mother had signed me up to participate in a pilot program for a new dental assisting course, which she had read about in the newspaper. OCETA was interviewing prospective candidates that day, and I was one of them — to my surprise. I found this out when my mother woke me up on a hot July morning by saying, ‘Get up! You have an interview for a dental assisting course at one o’clock!’”
At the time, young Bonnie had been reluctant to go to the interview. But keeping the commitment led to acceptance into the program, and ultimately — after graduating from the program in 1981 — a rewarding career in dental assisting.
“How ironic that my mother kicked me out of bed one July morning, and that would result in the development of a 30-plus-year career — a career marked with accomplishments that would fulfill me and be an endless source of professional and personal pride,” Bonnie reflects.
Here, Bonnie further discusses her career path.
Dental Assistant Life: Would you say that your mother helped to launch your career?
Bonnie J. Bazydlo: I do credit my mother with introducing me to my career in dental assisting. I absolutely LOVE to tell that story, and I remember my late mother with great love through the telling of it.
My mother, Beverley J. King-Simmons, was born during the Great Depression and understood the value of having a skill. She and my father (pictured at right) raised 13 children in a very strict household. Mom instilled in me the importance of an impeccable work ethic, of the pursuit of higher education, of holding yourself to a higher standard, and of honesty and humility — all the things that helped her to survive and thrive during a bleak economic period in U.S. history. That is a gift I can never repay, a gift that I credit my mother (and my father, Leo B. Simmons, by his example) with always.
My father also instilled in me the importance of having knowledge. He supported our family on a little more than a sixth-grade education, passing the General Educational Development test at age 61 — just two weeks before dying of cancer — to show his surviving children how important education is. I can only hope that the person and professional who I am today would make my parents proud.
As a mother yourself, do you strive to serve as a mentor to your own daughter?
I am the tenth of 13 children and have one child of my own: a daughter, Emily (pictured at right with Bonnie and Bonnie’s husband, Ed).
My daughter is married and expecting her fifth child. She is an amazing mother, intelligent and confident. I would love to believe that I have something to do with the wonderful woman she has become. It is my great wish that the stories I told her about her grandparents helped to instill the values in her that I hold dear myself.
Aside from your parents, can you recall any specific mentors who also inspired you along your career path?
In my professional life, I have had role models: dentists who taught me the importance of volunteering, as well as hygienists who taught me skills and who I watched as I admired their professionalism. Additionally, Deanne Recktenwald, office manager and leader extraordinaire, both encouraged and supported my strong desire to learn new skills and earn new certifications.
For example, most recently, I earned my phlebotomy certification at Bryant & Stratton College’s Henrietta, New York, campus. I recently passed the national board exam through the National Healthcareer Association, and I am excited and proud to begin utilizing my newfound skills.
You entered the dental assisting field in 1981 and earned DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification in 1999. Why did you choose to become DANB certified?
Becoming DANB certified was the first step to achieving my New York State registered dental assistant (RDA) license — as passing the DANB exams is a prerequisite for licensing in New York State. I met the exam requirements because I had successfully completed the dental assisting course my mother had enrolled me in.
How has DANB certification benefited your career?
When I passed my DANB exam, I became eligible for New York State RDA licensure. This most likely appealed to dentists who were looking to employ board-certified and state-licensed assistants for expanded functions.
With my DANB certification came a $10 per hour (roughly 420 percent) pay increase, from my starting wage of $3.10 per hour. And after I became licensed as an RDA, I earned an additional $5 per hour (another 120 percent increase). So there is no question that DANB certification not only allowed me to become a licensed RDA, but also gave me professional skills recognition, making me very competitive in the job market and vastly improving my earning potential. With DANB certification also came professional pride and a desire to continue to grow within my profession.
In your career, you’ve held a variety of roles — including chairside dental assistant, expanded duties dental assistant, lead dental assistant, clinical manager and dental assisting educator. As an educator, did you recommend DANB certification to your students?
When I taught dental assisting students from 2013 to 2015 at State University of New York (SUNY) Monroe Community College, I spoke regularly about working toward DANB certification and state licensing, and about the advantages to seeking professional growth opportunities. I explained to my students that actively seeking out educational opportunities does not only look good on a resume. It is an investment in one’s self.
I also told my students about how I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in radiation therapy technologies from SUNY Upstate Medical University College of Health Professions. In pursuit of this degree, I greatly expanded my knowledge base to include chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy, physiology, pathology, medical terminology and radiology — all skills that help a dental professional to grow.
When I walked across the stage during the white coat ceremony in May 2011, the president of the College of Health Professions told us that when we put on that white coat, we make a conscious decision to elevate ourselves to a higher level of professionalism; to hold ourselves to a higher standard; and to adopt a philosophy and a culture of ethics and standards that will set us apart from any other profession we have previously known.
I compare how I felt during that ceremony with what I felt the day I earned DANB certification. I have continued to hold on to those values and that philosophy and that culture. DANB certification has served me well.
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