His Career Dreams Were Detoured by Cancer, but He Persevered

Adrian Rodriquez overcame cancer

Adrian Rodriquez knew what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go and how he planned to get there. He even had the gumption to take his first few steps with confidence and determination.

But sometimes, even the best laid plans take unexpected turns. For Adrian, that involved getting some unexpected news during his first few weeks as a student of UEI College’s Dental Assistant program in Sacramento.

“I had cancer in the past … and unfortunately, it came back,” Adrian said.

Approaching his mid-30s at the time of this most recent diagnosis, Adrian had seemingly just begun turning a significant corner in his life. Having worked as an electrician for a few years, he made the bold decision to change careers by following an interest in dentistry that he’d had since he was a kid.

Just a few steps down this new path, however, and Adrian already felt at a crossroads. Fortunately, he found support through instructors and faculty members at UEI College. And, even through treatments and recovery, Adrian graduated in November 2019 at the top of his class.

Today, he’s working as an orthodontic RDA (Registered Dental Assistant) for a pediatric practice in Elk Grove.

“I won’t say it was easy,” Adrian said. “[The cancer] wasn’t easy to take care of, but I wasn’t going to let it hold me back for too long.”

Drawn to a Dental Career

Adrian said his experience going to the dentist has always been a positive one, this despite having to get braces multiple times in his life. 

“I didn’t keep up with the retainer wearing, but when I’d go to the dentist, it was still always positive for me,” he said. “Over time, I just saw the changes that I experienced and thought, wow, it would be great to help other people experience this.”

His first attempt to further his education after high school didn’t work out, however, and he soon joined the full-time workforce. He took odd jobs to make ends meet, then got into the electrical field, which sustained him for about five years.

While he made a good living as an electrician, the travel required of his work just didn’t fit the lifestyle he wanted to have.

“I had a good career, but I didn’t like being away from home all the time traveling,” Adrian said. “I wanted to be in Sacramento. I wanted to be home. I had just bought a house, and I wanted to live there.”

Then, one day the words “Coming Soon” caught his attention from the road. It was a billboard announcing the opening of UEI College’s new campus in Sacramento, and Adrian was intrigued. After googling the school to find more information, he called UEI and eventually enrolled in the campus’s newly-launched dental assistant program.

Adrian had decided to follow his dream, and based on the detour he was about to take, UEI proved to be the ideal partner in his journey.

Culture of Support at UEI College

When Adrian first learned that his cancer had returned, one of the first people he spoke with at UEI College was his instructor, Laci Salinas.

“After a few tears in my office, Adrian decided to power through and complete what he started,” Laci recalled from the conversation. “Adrian never gave up, came to school sick from chemotherapy, excelled on his homework and tests, and finished his program.”

He did have to take a few weeks off, however, which added to the challenge of keeping up with and completing the program. But, Adrian said the faculty was always by his side to keep him going and provide the extra help he needed to get through school during treatments.

“If it wasn’t for my instructor and the rest of the UEI staff, I wouldn’t have been able to complete [the classes],” he said. “They gave me the options I needed to make it work, and they were there the entire time to help me do it.”

And, his instructor, Laci, proved to be his biggest cheerleader.

“If it wasn’t for her, I honestly don’t think I’d be a successful RDA right now,” Adrian said. “There were times when I wanted to give up, and she was constantly checking on me to see if I was OK … always encouraging me. She just understood me and understood my struggles.”

“Adrian is super dedicated to his Dental Assistant career with the same passion and rigor he showed as an electrician. The dedication and focus he demonstrated for his schoolwork, regardless of what obstacles he faced, is truly an inspiration to the dental field,” Laci said.

After finishing school at the top of his class, Adrian was also the first student from UEI College’s Sacramento campus to pass his RDA test after the campus launched the then-new dental assistant program. He then completed his externship at a Sacramento-area pediatric dentistry clinic, which hired him full-time after he officially graduated from UEI.

Today, Adrian said he’s living his dream as an orthodontic RDA, and he has plans to earn a specialty certification as an orthodontic dental assistant.

“We are most proud of Adrian. He was the very first DA graduate from the Sacramento campus to pass the RDA exam, in spite of all he faced during his education. He is such a dedicated and inspiring student, is always a joy to be around, always has a smile and was very helpful to his classmate and instructors,” said Belinda Alcid, UEI Sacramento Campus President.

 “It seems like all those times when I wanted to quit and all the struggles I went through paid off because I’m now doing what I wanted to do,” Adrian said. “My whole goal was to live in Sacramento, loving my job and living my life.”

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