At Ross, we strive to put the best instructors possible into our classrooms. At the Ross Medical Education Center campus in Knoxville, Tennessee, Sylvia Nichols is one of those instructors. Sylvia is the Lead Instructor for the Dental Assistant program in Knoxville.
Sylvia is dedicated to all of her students and gives a 110% investment towards their education. If a student is out or feeling ill, she emails them to check in on them. “Even after she drives an hour and a half home at night, leaving the campus at 10pm, students will tell me that they will get an email from Ms. Sylvia checking in,” shared Campus Director Mary Tanenbaum. “Just last night Sierra Satin was in happy tears telling me what an impact Ms. Sylvia has made on her life.” Sierra said, “she is like my second mom, even on the weekends when I am making life decisions, I hear her in my ear and I stop and think what would Ms. Sylvia do. She has taught me to set goals, financially, and personally.”
Sylvia teaches all of her students the value of being independent in life, and that the key is through their education. She shares personal stories of her childhood and adulthood with her students. This helps each student to be able to walk away really understanding that they are responsible for themselves. They also are encouraged to believe that they are capable of taking care of and providing for themselves and their children.
Quitting is not an option in her class. Students may give every reason why they want to stop attending class, and she will help them to see and understand every reason why they must continue. She is relentless in her inspiration by providing a fun teaching atmosphere. Students are in the clinic every class day. There is constant laughter and sometimes a little tough love – however, Ms. Sylvia will never give up on one of her students. She doesn’t just steer the boat, she provides life jackets when needed, paddles at times and sometimes gets out and splashes around for a little fun!!
We sat down with Sylvia to ask her a little bit about her experience at Ross and in the dental field.
How long have you been at Ross as an instructor?
A year next month!
How did you get your start in teaching and why is it important to you?
I moved from California to Tennessee. I was in periodontics for 20 years and thought that instructing would be a natural step!
What’s your favorite thing about being an instructor at Ross?
Most definitely the Ross students!
What piece of advice do you try to convey to all of your students to help them succeed?
To always convey confidence when at externship or at work, and to act and be professional at all times by the way you dress and proper language. I always works with my students on soft skills.
What are you passionate about personally and how does that help you reach your goals as an instructor?
Family and enjoying life to the fullest!
Who inspires you to be great?
My Mom! She raised me and my sister as a single mother, working as a phlebotomist. We had no car, but my mom always made sure that there was food on the table and clothes on our back. I recall her dragging a Christmas tree home for three miles. She wouldn’t go on food steps or go on assistance, and she worked hard to make sure that she provided for us.
Share a positive memory about your experiences at Ross that stands out to you. Why is that memory special to you?
When I first started working at Ross, I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. I kept waiting for someone to yell at me (she laughs) and sometimes still do! Where I used to work there was a lot of criticism, here there is a positive culture, and the team builds each other up. I drive an hour to work and back everyday because of the great work culture! The team always works on contributing not tearing down.
When did you first start working in the dental field? What inspired you to pursue this career?
True story, I was at the dentist and watched his assistant. I said to him, “I think I can do that!” It just so happened that he was dating a dental assistant instructor. Two weeks later I was enrolled and followed through to complete. I knew that it was a career that would allow me to help others.
What is something most people don’t know about working as a dental assistant?
Most people feel like it is an easy job – it isn’t. There is continuing education, and people don’t realize what a great career choice that it can be.
What advice would you give to a student who is looking to go into the dental assisting field, but hasn’t quite made up their mind yet?
You have to be dedicated and a self starter. Plan on working hard. However, with that comes a professional job that is a career where you work with like-minded people. This is a career that offers benefits, vacation days, health insurance, 401K, and it can be a lifelong career. That means that many dental assistants stay at the same office their entire career. Another thing I love is that every day is different.
What is the most rewarding part of working as a dental assistant?
A patient’s reaction. Having a nervous patient that is afraid and taking them through the process, using your training, to the end. That moment when the patient sees their beautiful smile and knows that you assisted them along the way and made it a little less scary.
We asked some Ross staff and students about their experience with Sylvia Nichols. Here’s what they had to say:
“Sylvia is a top notch instructor who puts her students’ learning at the top of her priority list to ensure each one is prepared for working in the dental field.”
Jessica Lovely, Dental Instructor
“Mrs. Sylvia is always going above and beyond for her students. She comes in early and is always available to them! I think what I love most is that she is professional but also knows how to make an entire room laugh!”
April Thomas, Assistant Campus Director of Education
“I have a quote from one of my evening Medical Assistant program students. While we were sitting in class one evening, it was quiet and they could hear Miss Sylvia talking to her class, and my student made the comment that she could tell how much she cared about her students just by the way she was talking to them. She was very impressed with the compassion she heard in her voice.”
Kelly Ghist-Hawley, Medical Assistant Instructor
“I want to say I appreciate Ms. Sylvia and how helpful she has been. It was a rough start starting this program and having an instructor that was on top of things, and cared about her students has made my view on this program change. Now I’m happy that I have joined.”
Ashley Wentzel, Dental Assistant Student
“She made me feel very comfortable, and if I need extra help she is always there to give me pointers. She goes above and beyond to make sure we know the curriculum.”
Sierra Sartin, Dental Assistant Student