Concorde Blog - Mar 9, 2021
Every year, the faculty at Concorde Career College in Dallas vote for a recipient of the Concorde Clinical Excellence Award. They aim to choose a student from the graduating class who best embodies the Concorde Core Values: teamwork, respect for the individual, achievement, integrity and customer service. The awardee receives the honor at the graduate pinning ceremony.
This year, for the first time ever, the faculty voted unanimously.
Kira Almazayen, a 2020 graduate of the Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene program, is this year's Clinical Excellence Award winner. Her story shows that persistence, determination, and an enterprising spirit can overcome the very toughest obstacles life can throw at you.
From Kazakhstan to America
Kira was born in Kazakhstan while it was still part of the former Soviet Union. She grew up speaking Russian and Kazakh. In 1994, she finished dental school and began practicing in her native country. Over the next ten years she continued to work as a dentist, got married and started her family.
In 2004, she and her husband decided to move to Syria to be closer to his family. Kira learned Arabic and continued to work as a dentist there.
Syria was a growing country in the Middle East until political unrest led to the beginning of civil war in 2011-a civil war that continues to this day. According to the United Nations, the violence in Syria has forced more than 5.6 million people from their homes since the start of the war. Kira, her husband and their four children are among them. Her family emigrated to the United States in 2014.
The U.S. offered Kira and her family safety and opportunity. The one thing it didn't offer was a license to practice dentistry. Kira learned that her previous training as a dentist in Kazakhstan -- and her 20 years of experience -- was not recognized by authorities here.
Starting from Scratch
"They said I basically have to do my dental education over again," Kira explains. Along with the issue of her qualifications, there was also the language barrier: Kira was working to learn her fourth language, English, but it took time to become proficient.
As soon as she was able to work, she found a job as a dental assistant. The job kept her involved in dentistry, and it also helped her develop as an English speaker. It wasn't very satisfying, though. Kira's husband encouraged her to go back to school so she could begin practicing at a higher level. Kira became interested in qualifying as a dental hygienist.
"People I worked with recommended Concorde," says Kira, "So I tried to get in. It was hard because my English then was completely zero."
In fact, Concorde didn't accept Kira on her first try because of her lack of English speaking skills. "I had six months to improve, and I improved," she said. She applied a second time. "I still didn't get in, but they gave me more consideration." Encouraged, she applied a third time, and was accepted at last.
College Culture Shock
Getting into the program was the first challenge. Completing it successfully would be a greater one. According to Tammy Fisher, Program Director for the Dallas Dental Hygiene program until this year, the A.S. in Dental Hygiene involves seven terms of intensive didactic and clinical training.
In addition to memorizing and assimilating massive amounts of material, students must complete clinical training on 40 patients. What's more, they book those patients themselves. "This can be challenging for students who are from out of town and do not have a strong base of friends and family," Fisher explained, "In other words, students like Kira."
Kira found the class work difficult at first -- much more difficult than she expected, given her professional background. In Kazakhstan, she explains, many exams at her dental school were administered orally or as essays rather than in multiple choice format. "You have a chance then to explain your point of view. But you can't argue with a computer."
She received a 64 on her first exam, which left her wondering if she could stick it out. However, she had tried three times to get into this program, and she was determined to finish. Plus, she was no longer working alone. The Concorde Dallas support network had already swung into action.
"They Push You Forward"
"Honestly, it was hard," Fisher says when recalling Kira's first term at the school. But "the faculty and students were all willing to work with her." Classmates began to review with Kira after class, which helped her improve her English further (and helped her classmates review more, too). Along with Dental Hygiene clinic coordinator [Rita Hernandez, Fisher kept tabs on Kira, too. "Everyone was so friendly," Kira says. "7:00, 8:00 at night they were on the phone helping me. I was a person who needed help, and I got help."
With support, Kira's aptitude for dentistry began to shine through in her work. "I remember one time she answered her anatomy assignments with the Latin terms," Fisher says. "Lucky for us, that instructor could read the Latin!"
Kira becomes emotional remembering the way her Concorde family stepped up to help her excel in her program. "When you have people who support you, trust you, believe in your power," she says, "they push you forward."
Fisher was likewise impressed by Kira. "She never, NEVER complained about the hardships she was overcoming," Fisher wrote. "She was always prompt and professional." Fisher also notes that while many parents struggle to balance school and family, Kira's children "are her driving force to get through school." Kira herself proudly states that her husband and children were fully invested in her decision to complete her degree.
Advice to Concorde Students
Asked what advice she would give to other students, Kira says, "Lots of people wonder, 'How do you do it with children?'" She explained that the key is having them buy in to what you are doing and why. Even when the pandemic forced schools to go fully remote, Kira and her children all worked together to ensure everyone completed their assignments.
Kira also says it's important to accept that you must work hard and make sacrifices. "You have to think about the time commitment. I was studying all day, late at night and early in the morning. But the result I have now, it's worth it."
And what was that result? After graduating in July, Kira took her board exams -- an eight-hour multiple choice test of the kind she used to find confusing. She received the highest possible score on the exam.
Kira Almazayen's story is an inspiration, says Fisher. "Her kind, quiet, professional spirit is admired by everyone with whom she comes in contact," she wrote. "Most of us will never know the type of struggle Kira has experienced in her personal life. But we can all aspire to emulate her values."
Congratulations to Kira Almazayen, the 2020 Concorde Clinical Excellence Award winner. Best wishes for success in your career as a dental hygienist -- and whatever you decide to accomplish next.