Brook Hinegardner had always had a strange fascination with teeth but she had never considered that it might one day become a career for her.
It wasn’t until she sat down for her first root canal that her interest in dentistry really took hold.
“I had so many questions and the doctor just wasn’t answering them as best as I knew he could have,” she said. “I knew he thought I wouldn’t understand so he very briefly explained what a root canal was. I thought one day I would just go to school for it.”
But school was not something Brook had thought about for a while. She had dropped out of high school after her sophomore year when a move caused her to lose a year of credits. In 2020 she stopped working, fearing the impact COVID-19 might have on a heart condition she was born with. In the summer of 2021, she walked into the UEI College campus in Phoenix and decided to enroll in the Dental Assistant Program. She fell in love right away.
“It’s such an interesting and intriguing field. It’s so hands-on. All the time I feel like I’m doing art. It’s so fun,” she said. “Learning about teeth and the way that they grow, I think teeth are one of the most interesting things about the human body.”
Even though she loved the topic she was learning about, the program was challenging.
CULTURE OF SUPPORT AT UEI
“I don’t have the best support system at home and the staff picked up on that really fast and they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be deterred from school,” she said. “They worked with me the best they could. Any time I have any problem there are at least three people at that campus fixing it and solving it before I can even finish saying what the problem is. I love that because I’ve never had that type of support growing up.”
Lanisa Hudson, Brook’s instructor, said she was a natural once she got going.
“Once she got here and planted her feet and got into the right group of people, she just excelled,” Lanisa said. “That was awesome for me to watch her… Her smile, the way she carries herself…. She became more of a leader. She reached out to students who were lacking in their homework. She was just awesome.”
FROM EXTERN T0 NEW HIRE
The biggest challenge for Brook came when she was assigned an externship at a pediatric dental office. She was instantly nervous about how she would be interacting with children.
“I don’t know how to talk to kids. I don’t know how to deal with little kids,” she said. “Everyone on campus just talked me through it. Anything I was nervous about or worried about, I went to them and they calmed my nerves right up. It was really nice. They reminded me and constantly assured me that they’ve got my back when it comes to anything that could possibly happen.”
When she got into the office, Brook surprised herself with the way she interacted with the young patients. She must have impressed the dentist too because she was offered a job before her externship ended. She happily accepted.
“I don’t know what happened to make the switch flip but one day out of nowhere I’m now really comfortable around kids,” she said. “I’m kind of a child whisperer now… I never thought I would see myself doing the things I’m doing now. I didn’t think I was able to do it. I didn’t think I was smart enough or capable enough. Everyone at UEI just reminded me and talked to me and told me it’s just your anxiety talking. They really helped me learn my own self-worth.”
The biggest thing Brook says she took away from her time at UEI was more confidence in herself.
“If you asked me a year ago, would I see myself working in the dental field, I probably would have laughed at you,” she said. “I’m way happier. I have such confidence in myself that I never thought I would be able to achieve. I know my self-worth. I’m still learning a lot more every day, but it has skyrocketed in the past year since joining UEI. All that I care about is this year’s Brook is happier than a year ago Brook, and that’s all that matters to me.
“Education is so important to build confidence in yourself and build yourself up internally. It might have a good job that comes with it, but the feeling of having a diploma in your hand and walking across that stage is going to be so much more worth it.”