Day in the Life of Rachelle Pratt

Assistant Clinical Professor, Dental Hygiene Program

01 May 2020

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I graduated three times from the U of A! The first time was with a Diploma in Dental Hygiene in 1997. After I worked in private practice for a few years, I missed being a student and was interested in teaching in the dental hygiene program, so I came back part-time for the degree-completion program. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science (Dental Hygiene Specialization) in 2002.

I started working as a Part-Time Clinical Instructor in the Dental Hygiene Program upon finishing my BSc. Fast-forward about 15 years, through part-time clinical private practice, teaching and building my family. I wanted to develop further in my teaching roles and reach for more opportunities to teach in the classroom.

So I applied to the Master of Education in Health Science Education program. I completed my Master's degree part-time by June of 2019 while teaching, working a bit in private practice and having fun with my family. My husband Dennis is a school teacher, and he had completed a Master of Education degree a few years earlier, so he was my main motivator and support through it all. Now we all live for summer holidays when we can all be off camping together!

My husband and I have been married for 17 years, and we have a 15-year-old daughter and two sons, aged 12 and 8. These days, I am also trying to be a junior-high and elementary school teacher too (thankfully, my husband actually is a Junior High teacher, so that really helps...).

We love camping, cooking over a fire, family bike rides, walks and reading. We are big basketball fans and love the Toronto Raptors (although I would rather watch my kids play basketball any day). I love to bake but hate to cook. Thankfully my partner is my opposite, so he cooks and I clean.

I was 19 when I started my dental hygiene career (almost 24 years!), so I have no idea what my life would be like without it. I guess my back would feel a bit better? While I have loved working with amazing patients and colleagues in both general and periodontal specialty practices, I feel most energized while working with students. Being a part of their learning is what excites me most about going to work every day.

What did you want to be as a kid?
My mom was (and still is!) a nurse, so I always thought I would go into nursing. And then I thought I would like to be an Elementary School teacher. I think I actually found a pretty good balance of being both a health-care provider and an educator in dental hygiene. Education is a big part of oral health care, and early on in my career, I found that those were my favourite parts of dental hygiene appointments. I also worked in Community Health for a few years and loved connecting with families and kids and helping them make positive choices. I worked closely with nurses in the health centers and realized how important interprofessional care is.

Who is your dental hero?
My instructors when I was in school, many of whom I later worked with as educator colleagues, have been amazing role models for me. They were integral to mentoring me as an educator (and continue to do so! A few are still working hard as educators in the DH program!). One of the most important things I learned from them is how to ask questions. Genuine curiosity, interest and support as both an educator and a learner is essential to guide any learning that one hopes to take place.

What is your favourite thing about being an instructor?
I have found, especially over the last few years, how much I've enjoyed being with students. They are bright, energetic and care deeply for their patients. That's all pretty contagious. When we are with clients providing care, the students are motivated to do well and are very interested in watching and doing. I try to give them opportunities to discover how well they are doing and what they can improve on, and I try to model well-informed practice with guidance and coaching.

What's your favourite procedure to do?
Two areas of interest that I particularly enjoy are dental radiography and local anaesthetic. I also enjoy teaching these procedures. Being in the simulation labs with students learning how to produce diagnostic radiographic images is a fun, interactive environment that the students enjoy. In the lab setting, it's nice to be able to focus on one procedure and learn how to do it really well. It is a place where they can apply immediate feedback and troubleshoot through any minor (or major!) errors. We see lots of growth very quickly because they can practice again and again with the mannikins. Also, my kids think it's pretty great that I get to go to Rad Labs during the week - they think that sounds pretty rad (wah wah...).

With Local Anaesthesia, it's a technical skill that is essential to providing good care. In an educational setting, I find it so important to help students gain competency and confidence in this skill. Often both the students delivering anaesthesia and their patients benefit from the calm guidance I can provide to both of them.

What has this crazy time been like for you?
As educators, we were given very little turn-around time to take a curriculum plan and re-organize it into distance education. Distance education isn't just turning what you had planned into a zoom session: it is basically a curriculum redesign to make sure that the chosen technology can actually enhance learning. It is about restructuring curricula to utilize different formats to ensure student learning can carry on. So there were a lot of late nights in the first few weeks. But things have settled down now, and I am enjoying the flexible working environment.

I realize that there has been an impact on dental hygienists across the province and nation, and my heart goes out to those who have been laid off. It has been very disappointing to see clinical programs halted. But there will come a time that we can resume some dental hygiene care, so we look forward to that.

My kids are getting used to me being home but also in meetings online, and have accidentally zoom-bombed me a few times, not realizing my camera was on. It has made for some good background entertainment. It has been nice to see my family more and spend less time in traffic. I can get out for bike rides and walks and do more baking with them, then work when the house is quieter.

How are you coping?
It's okay. I'm trying to follow good mental-health advice: focus on the things that I can change and not worry about the things that I can't. But I'm a bit of a worrier on a regular day, so this has been a bit challenging. I still work out in the mornings (7-minute workout apps are my go-to!), then go for a short run, walk or bike ride every day. And if I can't get out for a walk, I try to sit out on my back deck in the sun for a few minutes if I can.

My daughter loves cards and board games, so do those once in a while. We had puzzles going at first, but they stressed me out! I try to intersperse little breaks like these between my work, helping the kids with their school work and feeding kids three times a day. There are times that all five of us at home need to be in school chats, online meetings or teaching sessions through the web. There will definitely be some data overage charges this month! We all are so grateful for the hard-working teachers who normally keep the kids busy. I think we have all realized how much we all love school.

Do you have any advice for those graduating?
To all graduates, especially those graduating amidst the turmoil of COVID-19, I commend you for your hard work. You have worked hard not just this year, but over the years to get to this point. There were many surprises and changes at the end of the semester that impacted all of you. So I congratulate you on your accomplishments, your resilience, your adaptation and patience. There are still so many unknowns concerning the workforce you are entering, but there is indeed reason to celebrate completing your education. A virtual celebration will be a memory that you will cherish when you look back on it; it will just look a little different than what you had imagined and planned.

The same goes for those students continuing their studies. There are so many unknowns, and there is no way to know if this crisis may have further impact on their education. I am hopeful that our determination as a program to help learners succeed in their studies will be possible through support, understanding and care for those still learning. We'll get through this, together, but one day at a time.

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