Michelle Wood

Looking Forward While Looking Back

Michelle Wood working with a student

“This has been my home. This is where I got my start.

Michelle Wood, a 2001 graduate of the dental hygiene program at CCC-Hastings, has seen quite a bit of change in dentistry.

Wood spent two weeks at the Hastings Campus in fall 2018 assisting with teaching CCC students as they prepare for their own professional lives. One of the changes is in the dental hygiene lab, which is now divided into pods instead of one long room with chairs directly across from each other. Wood recalls one student had to sit in the storage area while one of the program administrators’ office was located in the bathroom. Now, she believes the lab is very comparable to an actual dental office and the curriculum has also evolved.

“You’re going to take X-rays. You’re going to do your examination. You’re going to look for inconsistencies in the tissue,” said Wood. “They’re teaching those students the critical skills that they will need to evaluate their patients and develop a dental hygiene diagnosis.”

In fact, the role of the dental hygienist has changed dramatically in recent years as they are now able to administer anesthesia and there is a push for midlevel dental care in order to meet the needs of the population because there are not enough dentists.

“If we can train our hygienists and educate them in a way that they can critically think and evaluate their patient, we can close the gap of health care,” said Wood. “We need to look at a patient holistically so that we can help systematically improve oral health.”

Wood, who currently works at a public health clinic in Colorado, believes that the program at CCC-Hastings has the instructors and curriculum needed to meet the demand.

“We have dentists in Colorado who want Nebraska dental hygienists, and there is a reason,” said Wood. “You have educators that have been here for years and they have their curriculum down. They know what is necessary for clinicians to be trained.”

One of the things Wood enjoyed most about the dental hygiene program at CCC-Hastings was how she was supported after she graduated from CCC and pursued a bachelor’s degree.

“I was immediately able to reach out to Wanda (Cloet) when I had questions about curriculum that I was facing and they were so incredibly helpful,” said Wood. “They have talked over problems with me on the phone. Wanda has participated in videoconferencing with me. They really do support their graduates beyond the program. That’s key to their success.”

Wood went on to earn a master’s degree from Idaho State University and she hopes to earn a terminal degree in dental hygiene. However, there currently is no terminal degree program available.

“Idaho State is developing a terminal degree right now and we’re hoping to see that succeed and push through,” said Wood. “If it succeeds, I will get my dental hygiene doctorate. If it doesn’t, I will go into education as my secondary path.”

When asked if she would like to return to CCC-Hastings to teach dental hygiene, Wood quickly answered yes.

“This has been my home,” said Wood. “This is where I got my start.”