BY Amanda Sotelo
Early on, James Cho knew that his calling was in the dental field so when he found the Dental Hygiene program at Texas State Technical College he knew it was the place for him, although there was one major challenge during the program that almost destroyed his dream.
The South Korean native was working as a dental assistant in Brownsville, after completing an online dental assistant certification program, but he wanted more.
“After working as a dental assistant for five years, and observing the duties and the care the dental hygienists and the dentists provided to their patients, I knew I wanted to do that too,” said Cho.
So after he began researching programs and realized the time it took to be a dentist was not in his cards, he chose the next best thing, TSTC’s Dental Hygiene program, the only program of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley.
“TSTC had exactly what I was looking for. The college was in my own backyard. A short 20-minute drive,” said Cho. “And their application and acceptance process was fair and square. Whether I passed my entrance exam or not was up to me. Everything was in my hands.”
The 39-year-old ended up being one of the highest scoring applicants who got accepted into the two-year program and earned his associate degree in 2017, with a 3.75 GPA and a job offer in hand.
But, this wasn’t almost the case.
While in the program, Cho went through a difficult divorce and became a single parent, which he says was disheartening and depressing.
“I started to lash out at classmates and people I cared about,” he said. “I made poor choices during this time that could have affected my future. It was tough to finish, but I hung on and made it through. I was given a second chance.”
Cho now works as the area dental hygienist with Brident Dental and Orthodontics in Austin, in charge of all three clinics in the area.
He made the move to Austin with his now 14-year-old daughter to have more opportunities to choose from and take advantage of the higher salaries outside of the Rio Grande Valley.
“I get to work alongside a wide range of team members and visit a different office pretty much every day. It’s refreshing,” said Cho. “I love what I do and actually look forward to going to work. I must say, I am very thankful and privileged to have such a career because of TSTC.”
As a hygienist, Cho is a patient’s key educator about oral health. He treats patients who are diagnosed with gingivitis or periodontal disease, coaches on nutrition, plaque control and overall oral health and delivers professional whitening services.
“I’m constantly striving to deliver the best quality of care to all of my patients,” he said. “And delivering the highest level of oral health care.”
Cho said what he has become today is the product of the experiences he had during his time in the dental hygiene program.
“The two years I spent at TSTC and in the program were the most unforgettable phases of my life,” said Cho. “The faculty and staff are incredible. They truly care about us as their students and our training, they strive to see us succeed and see the best in all of us.”
Cho added, “Had it not been for my instructors who realized my leadership qualities and gave me a second chance, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have become a more humble, thankful, caring, kind and helpful person, thanks to them.”
So, what’s in Cho’s future?
He will be starting classes soon to become certified as an orofacial myofunctional therapist, to help patients overcome disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth.
“My goal is to never stop learning. I will keep improving my skills and making myself more valuable to those I work with and for my patients,” said Cho. “And it all started at TSTC.”
For more information on TSTC’s Dental Hygiene program or the services offered at the TSTC Dental Hygiene Clinic, call 956-364-4696.