Alumni

Karen Miller

  • Dental Hygiene

Helping those in need has always been at the core of her career choices. Karen’s bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene gave her the flexibility to pursue her passion and opened a world of possibilities. She served immigrants and refugees at community dental clinics in the U.S. Then she moved to China for three years and provided holistic dental care to underserved populations. Today she’s broadening her language skills. Learning more diverse local dialects. And is planning to return to China to promote dental hygiene in struggling communities.

 

Karen Miller
TAKING THE LEAD

Q&A with Karen

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING SINCE GRADUATION?

After graduating from Penn College, I obtained my dental hygiene license in Minnesota and began part-time work in a community dental office while working toward two bachelor's degrees. The first was doing distance education with Penn College to earn my Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene, Health Policy and Administration concentration. I was also enrolled at North Central University where I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Intercultural Studies, International Development concentration.

WHAT DID YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT PENN COLLEGE?

The professors and clinical staff were what made my experience so wonderful. I appreciated that when I was attending there was a variety of approaches to dental hygiene, yet the curriculum was still very cohesive. I actually failed out of the program and had to repeat a year. The professors and administration were gracious and kind. I grew so much in that year. It allowed me to gain immense confidence and work in my field with ease.

IF SOMEONE WERE INTERESTED IN COMING TO PENN COLLEGE FOR DENTAL HYGIENE, WHAT MIGHT YOU TELL HIM/HER?

The dental hygiene program is tough, but very worth it. Don't be afraid of failure, it shapes you. Take care of your body. Stay active. Work your brain. See a therapist if you need to. You can do it!

WHEN DID YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH COMMUNITY DENTISTRY?

After graduation, I worked for a government grant-funded office with international staff (Somali, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Hmong, Latin American, Saudi Arabian). We served low -income, refugee, and immigrant populations. It was such an amazing environment that allowed me to learn the hard work of applying for government grants. This office stood in stark contrast to the private and corporate offices where I worked previously. It wasn't about the money (though we were glad to pay the bills and have updated dental equipment), it was about giving our patients their humanity and dignity and honoring them through good dental care. It was this office that really made me fall in love with community dentistry.

WHAT LED YOU TO MOVE TO CHINA?

I pursued a job opportunity with a faith-based, non-profit organization that led to my move in the fall of 2016. I did three years of language study with a main focus on Mandarin Chinese. It's the common dialect in China and allows me to communicate with most people across Mainland. I'm also currently studying a few different Cantonese dialects since I plan to return to an area in China where the locals speak these variations. When I return, I'll work full-time in dental hygiene and plan to use English, Mandarin, and some Cantonese.

HOW HAS YOUR FOUNDATION IN DENTAL HYGIENE ALLOWED YOU TO FULFILL YOUR CALLING?

Having this degree and profession has opened opportunities to work with co-workers who have similar ethics and goals. It has also provided an opportunity to work with the people that I really came to care about deeply. Having this degree opens doors to work visa’s and doing the work I am really passionate about. It allows me to honor my client’s (dental patient’s) humanity and quality of life.
Guaranteed Momentum
Empowerment through education

Empowerment through education

While earning her bachelor's degree, Karen worked at a community clinic and helped educate low-income immigrants and refugees in the Twin Cities. She put together customized educational programs focusing on dental nutrition and dental hygiene and presented at the clinic, local schools, churches, or community centers. The minority populations she worked with included Hmong, Karen (minority from Myanmar), Burmese, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Somali, and Sudanese.

Alumni News
Truly transformative

Truly transformative

"The ethics in dental hygiene have also pushed me to focus on what is important. Everyone needs dental care. Dental issues are so deeply tied to self-esteem and quality of life. Severe dental pain can impact sleep, ability to eat/drink, job opportunities, and even intimacy.

With my foundation of dental hygiene, I can connect with humans, hear their stories, learn to honor them, and give them dignity. I am so transformed through these experiences and my relationships with them."

Guaranteed Momentum
Crossing cultural barriers

Crossing cultural barriers

"Culture deeply impacts people's approach to health. For immigrants and refugees, they immediately experience a massive life disruption that can impact their dental health. Moving to a new country, they may also encounter new foods and drinks that have a huge impact on their dental health. Having dental professionals who can take time to understand their worldview and cultural nuances is important so that education can become effective."

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