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
ADEA GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a career in
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.