A day in their scrubs

May 2nd, 2016
Photos of family members fill Dominique Salas-Garfias' locker at TAMBCD.

Photos of family fill Dominique Salas-Garfias’ locker at TAMBCD.

Meet Dominique Salas-Garfias, DH2

One constant is woven into Dominique Salas-Garfias’ life: her family.

All she need do to get to her mother’s home is open the front door and cross the tree-lined park separating their properties. After 10 years as a dental assistant — a large part spent in the hospital setting at Children’s Medical Center Dallas — Salas-Garfias decided she wanted to pursue dental hygiene. It was her husband, mother and siblings who took turns watching the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Kennedy, while Salas-Garfias worked and took night courses to earn the prerequisites to apply to Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.

With time, the acceptance later came, and with it, the celebratory hugs and phone calls. Not long after, decisions needed to be made about how best to pay for her education. Once again, family stepped in. Salas-Garfias’ mother-in-law, Paula Garfias, offered to take out loans in her own name to help her daughter-in-law pursue her dream of becoming a dental hygienist. And she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Not long into Salas-Garfias’ coursework at Caruth, her mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. And this fall, when things took a turn for the worse, Salas-Garfias, a natural-born nurturer, insisted Paula’s final weeks be spent at her and her husband’s home, under the watchful care of family.

“I said to my husband, ‘Johnny, now it’s your turn to care for your mother in the same way she cared for you when you were a baby,’” Salas-Garfias says.

It’s hard to talk about without shedding a few tears. Despite the emotional toll, Salas-Garfias hasn’t just gotten through dental hygiene school. She’s excelled.

The recipient of no less than five scholarships while at Caruth will be presented with the Betty J. Scott Scholarship come August. She is the first dental hygiene student to receive the honor. Salas-Garfias openly admits that prior to dental hygiene school, she never received any scholarships. It appears she is making up for lost time.

As she gears up for graduation, she knows her mother-in-law is there, in spirit, in the midst of it all. And she can’t wait for what comes next.

Hometown: Oak Cliff, Dallas

Undergrad institution: Mountain View College

Dental school survival strategy: I take it one day at a time, and I look at the positive at the end — my goal. It all comes back down to family, and being rooted with family values. If I did this alone, it would be 10 times worse, 10 times harder on me. It’s the support of my husband, my mom, my brother and sisters. If I couldn’t count on them, I couldn’t go to class. When mom needs a rest, or has a big exam or boards, they are there to help.

Favorite energy food: It is my coffee, every morning. I am on a schedule. I have my cup of coffee every morning at home. I just like a good old cup of coffee with some creamer.

Best way to unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: I love to bake. It’s a really good “de-stresser” for me. My mom will come over, and she and my daughter and I will bake banana bread and box cake. I love spending time with my daughter. We love going to the park. It’s right across from the house. We look out our door, and there’s a big old park there. If we want to, we can go around and ride bikes.

Dental hygiene school aha moment: As you get more comfortable and put all the pieces together, you see there’s a lot more than just cleaning teeth. You go to a practice, and you get to grow with your patients. That’s what I love about hygiene.

Best patient care experience: A patient of mine who was passed down to me from my big, Taylor Wing. He comes in every three months, and he is always so thankful that we clean his teeth. He also loves to give hugs. He is always so humble and so grateful. He is a really good patient.

Goal after graduation: I have all these different plans on what I would love to do. My goal is to be involved in public health, or work with HRSA or the Indian Health Service, anywhere that is underserved or rural. I would be willing to go to Alaska or Colorado. It would be a great experience for my daughter, to know you can do anything you want to do.

I would also love to be involved with hospital dentistry; any kind of special care. I enjoy working in areas where I can really help and make a difference. I think God has blessed me with this ability.

What people may not know about you: I have done the Dallas Children’s Holiday Parade for the last 10 years with my sister. Now it’s become a family tradition where we dress like clowns and entertain kids in the street. We take jump rope, and we play hopscotch. You show up to Children’s hospital at 5 in the morning to do your makeup. We ride the train, and it’s the funniest thing. There are 100 clowns that ride. You feel like you’re in a circus. You go downtown and to your designated blocks and entertain the kids until the parade starts. Once it starts, the clowns have a seat and enjoy the parade. I love it.

— Jennifer Fuentes