Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis
Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis
At Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis (TTCM), the goal is as simple as the ways to get there are complex: to create relevant education for tomorrow's leaders in dental laboratory technology. To make that happen master instructor Donna Hood Karney, CDT, has developed a career focused technology center that meets the needs of students and their future employers.
What draws students to your program?
It is short and career focused. Students have no school debt upon graduation. Many of our students come by word of mouth from former students or others in the industry.
Can you describe your typical student and explain how your program helps to transform him or her into a skilled dental technician?
The student comes to us with a high school diploma or GED and usually little to no knowledge of the field. They train in the basics of all five areas of dental technology, dental materials and anatomy, before finishing a course of specialized training. Most are employed in local dental laboratories while others are employed in laboratories outside of Memphis. We also have a few out-of-state students.
What benefits are there for technicians in attending a formal dental technology education program?
Ideally, they have a better understanding of the mechanics of dental technology. They should also have the basic skills to apprentice in each area. While initially lacking in experience and speed, they should grasp their assigned tasks more clearly and quickly upon employment than those who are not formally trained.
What are the benefits for a dental laboratory owner to hire graduates from a formal dental technology education program?
Students have made a longterm commitment to the industry through their education. Employers get a hire with a good basic understanding of dental technology. The time bringing them to a level of production is reduced because of their training.
What are the three things that you most enjoy about teaching dental technicians?
I enjoy seeing students who are as fascinated by it as I was and watching them learn and grow into professionals. I also enjoy watching students who come in with limited ability to support themselves and discover a career they can rely on for continuous employment. I also enjoy watching the pride and self esteem of each student rise as he/she develops into dental professionals.
Can you share an example of a student you taught who went on to be a success? How has that experience helped to motivate you to teach others?
There are many examples. I teach students that school is not the be all and end all to success. Good attitude and reliability are extremely important.
What do you think are the three biggest myths about formal dental technology education programs and how are they wrong?
That school is unnecessary since technicians can be trained on the job, that the work is easy to learn and that there is no money in dental technology. I could be wrong about these three, but they are what come to mind for me.
I believe there are many good technicians who were trained on the job but certainly a formal education is more thorough in dental materials/science and head/neck and oral anatomy. Formally-trained technicians are generally more rounded in their knowledge of the field, at least, early in their careers. Formal education also better prepares the technician for certification.
I think all students come into the program thinking they are going to learn this in no time and that it will be easy. Many don't realize the years of practice that go into being a good technician. A skilled technician makes it look easy.
I sometimes hear technicians say people can't make a decent living in this business. While the idea of 'a decent living' might be relative, these statements can be very discouraging to future technicians. While it is true that good earnings take time and practice, most experienced technicians do earn at least a decent to a very good living.
For those who are unhappy with the field or their pay, I often wish they would keep their thoughts to themselves and not ruin it for the newcomer who is often excited to be here. We all have our less-than-ideal days (or even months) in this business, but I believe many of us who have worked to attain some level of success in our careers have also attained a/some level of financial success for our knowledge and skills.
What keeps you coming back to teach a fresh crop of future dental technicians?
I am always seeking students who are willing and able to dive into the business and make it his/her own. I love it when I hear students say, "Why didn't anyone tell me about this field before?" This is the way I felt when I discovered it.
If you could change anything about your program, what would you change?
I would get another instructor or at least an assistant or even a secretary would be great! It can be a challenge to have so many students on so many different levels at the same time. I have taped all of my demonstrations and lectures, basically cloning myself on video, so students can pop them in to receive instruction no matter what group I happened to be working with that day. Without the tapes, the program wouldn't work.
How long have you been teaching and what changes have occurred in the program over that time?
I am a 1980 graduate of the same program. I have been teaching at the school for 22 years, since Sept. 11, 1989. I worked in all areas of the laboratory at the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry after graduation and then spent time in private prosthodontic and general dental office laboratories as well as commercial laboratories.
When I was arrived in 1989, the program was in the process of changing from group enrollment and lock step training, to open enrollment and competency based training. We needed many more training aids to make it work. There were almost none. Few dental technology training videos were available for purchase, with the exception of PTC.
An instructor from our upholstery program (now closed) told me he had developed his own training aids by taping all of his demonstrations and lectures. I thought this was a great idea so I also began to do the same.
I rewrote the curriculum so that it followed the Air Force Manual (our primary reference) more closely. The curriculum had to be as self-guided as possible in order to free me up to work with students individually and remain as hands-on as possible. This took quite some time to do and there are still challenges, but it has helped me tremendously. Students who are focused and stay on task can move through the program more quickly and can finish in less than 16 months.