Hear from Practitioners

Dental Hygiene Careers From a New Perspective

Posted by Lt. Angelica M. Chica, RDH, BASDH, M.P.A. on February 24, 2016

The opportunities within the dental and dental hygiene professions are continually expanding. Lt. Angelica M. Chica, RDH, B.A.S.D.H., M.P.A., recently shared with the ADEA GoDental team how her enlistment in the United States Air Force led to her dental hygiene education. Her training as a dental hygienist then opened the door to a truly unique career as a Consumer Safety Officer working for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

ADEA GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a career in dental hygiene?

Lt. Angelica M. Chica (Lt. C): When I joined the United States Air Force at age 18, I had to pick one of the three health care job categories I was interested in—dentistry, radiology or medical technician—and I chose dentistry. I started as a dental assistant and was quickly drawn into the preventive aspects of dentistry, particularly within dental hygiene.

GD: How did you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental hygiene profession?

Lt. C: While I was stationed in Washington, DC, I learned about a public health career within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), specifically the Consumer Safety Officer (CSO) career path and position. I was able to speak with current and former CSOs and ask them questions about their job responsibilities and the required qualifications. The basic qualifications for an entry-level CSO position is a minimum of 30 semester credit hours of science courses. As a dental hygienist, I had already met this requirement. Next, I discovered the job vacancy via the United States government job board. There are several commodities (specific products regulated by FDA) that a CSO may be assigned to investigate and inspect. The classifications include foods, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, biologics (any product that contains blood or blood products, tissues and vaccines) and bioresearch monitoring (clinical research). As a clinician, my skills and knowledge were best suited for either biologics or bioresearch monitoring. I was able to pick my commodity, so I chose the latter.

GD: What does a typical day in your current position entail?

Lt. C: On average, Consumer Safety Officers are given two to three assignments per month, depending on the workload and resources. One investigation or inspection assignment can take anywhere between one to three weeks. CSOs have complete autonomy on how they want to proceed with their workload meaning it is up to each CSO to plan their own work plan so that they can meet the deadlines to complete each assignment.

I begin preparing for an inspection by doing my research. Researching an assignment involves reading all documents pertaining to the clinical research investigation I will be inspecting, i.e. study protocols, subject source data (information typically found in a subject’s study chart and medical file), the curriculum vitae (CV) or credentials of the clinical investigator(s), and the medication or medical device under investigation in the study. This will typically take a day or two.

At the beginning of my investigation and once reaching the study site, I conduct interviews, inspect the clinical site, and begin reviewing all of the research data to ensure the protection of human subjects during the study and that all the information reported to the FDA is accurate. This part of the investigation can take days or weeks. At the conclusion of my inspection I will write a very detailed report of my findings (typically 20+ pages) and submit to my supervisor for review.

GD: What skills or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar role should have?

Lt. C: In this position you are not only representing yourself but also the federal government, so professionalism is the most important personality trait. A CSO needs to be unbiased when performing their duties. Sticking to the facts and being able to collect evidence that support any type of deviation from the law is important; hence, critical thinking skills and organizational skills are very important as well.

GD: What is your favorite part about being in your current role and why?

Lt. C: I like the autonomy I get when performing my job. I am passionate about public health and this is a very unique way that I can contribute to the health and safety of our nation. When I am on an assignment I feel like “Inspector Gadget,” always looking at what seems out of place or doesn’t quite make sense and putting it all together to get a factual big picture of how the particular clinical study was conducted. It feels good to know that in the U.S. we have an agency, the FDA, that is working tirelessly to make sure the medications and medical devices, among other commodities, are safe and effective.

GD: What motivated you to continue your education beyond the entry level?

Lt. C: I have been an Active Duty Air Force (AF) member since I was 18 years old. I served for 11.5 years with the AF and eventually crossed over from the uniformed branch I served in to the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). The importance of education was inculcated from day one of basic training. In my opinion, achieving higher education is not merely checking a box in the education column of life. I feel if you find something that you are passionate about, you remain hungry for more knowledge. In the end, this cumulates in many different career opportunities, as it has for me.

GD: How did your dental hygiene education help you prepare for your career?

Lt. C: My dental hygiene education gave me the confidence to continue with my educational goals. It allowed me to see a broader view of public health. It has given me priceless skills and knowledge that have allowed me to experience different career paths. 

GD: What is one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?

AC: I wish I knew that the training received, as priceless as it is, might not be as conventional as one would imagine. Sometimes you will perform a task as you think it should be done, then learn a new way of doing things and have to redo the same task again. There is a method to the madness, but I wish I knew that the first try isn’t always right.

GD: If you could give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role similar to yours, what would it be?

AC: Continue to broaden your educational experiences. Find something that brings you joy within dental hygiene and expand on it. If you find nutrition fascinating, then take additional courses focused on that subject. Don’t limit yourself to just a degree. Consider certifications you can obtain that will enhance your career options. The bottom line would be to follow your passion and don’t set limits.

About Lt. Angelica M. Chica, RDH, BASDH, M.P.A.:

chica

Lt. Angelica M. Chica, RDH, BASDH, M.P.A.
Health Services Officer
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps


Lieutenant Angelica M. Chica is a Health Service Officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS).  Lt. Chica transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, Miami Resident Post, in October 2014 and currently serves as an Investigator for Bioresearch Monitoring. Prior to this assignment she was stationed in the Office of the Surgeon General, Washington, DC, as the Special Assistant to the United States Surgeon General.

She began her USPHS career in June 2009 with the Bureau of Prisons, Federal Correction Complex Coleman as an Advanced Dental Hygienist. Prior to joining the Commissioned Corps, Lt. Chica served over 11 years as an Enlisted Airman in the United States Air Force. During her last U.S. Air Force assignment, she was the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of oral population health metrics, community oral health education and outreach efforts, manager of section staff, and adjunct faculty for the University of Alaska Dental Hygiene Program.

Lt. Chica has a total of 17 years in service, both overseas and stateside, including multiple deployments both with the U.S. Air Force and the USPHS.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene (BASDH), 2008, from St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH). Lt. Chica also obtained a Master’s in Public Administration (M.P.A.) in 2013 from American Military University in Charles Town, WV.