With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and a master’s degree from Towson, Michael Cieplak found himself working as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins University. For many, a career at an esteemed research university would seem like a dream job, but not for Cieplak.
“I worked all day in a lab, many times alone with no interaction with colleagues. There were blackout curtains to protect the equipment, so even if someone else was there, I would have no idea. It was very isolating,” he recalls.
After much consideration, Cieplak decided to make a change and become a dental hygiene student at Howard Community College in 2014, which was the inaugural year of the program.
“Previously, I had worked as an office manager in a dental office, so I was familiar with the job of a dental hygienist. I decided to completely change my career path, and dental hygiene is a much better fit for my personality. I like being around people; I am very outgoing,” he says.
Cieplak went on to serve as his dental hygiene class president and earn his associate degree in 2016 as one of the program’s first graduating class.
In addition to the rapport with colleagues and patients, Cieplak says that what drew him to dental hygiene is the highly flexible nature of the job. “I also get the opportunity to educate myself on new techniques, and it’s a very autonomous field. Dental hygiene also allows you to explore different areas such as implants, oral surgery or working with kids,” he adds.
Cieplak is also drawn to the field due to its stability, which is especially appealing in uncertain economic times and an unstable job market. He also sees room for advancement as a draw.
“Most people leave this career because of body failure. You are standing most of the day, and you work with your hands all day,” he notes. “I recently had a rough rock climbing accident, so I am very aware of my body’s limitations. But, for now, I am thoroughly enjoying my job.”
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