My dental hygiene journey: Overcoming learning disabilities to achieve my dreams

By Kelsey Ackert

Growing up, I was always interested in dental hygiene. I watched my mom get her teeth cleaned and even did a science fair project on the impact of soda on teeth in Grade 7. By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in dental hygiene because every dental professional I knew thoroughly enjoyed their job and had a great work-life balance — something I desired for myself.

However, school never came easy to me. While I worked hard and dedicated myself to my studies, I always took twice as long as other students to complete assignments. I thought this was normal until I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD during my pre-requisite courses. It was then that I began working with the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) and received accommodations like extra time on exams, the ability to audio record my classes, and using audiobook format for all my textbooks.

Having a diagnosed learning disability opened the doors to accommodations that would help me to succeed, but I was still nervous to enter such an intense program as dental hygiene. The program was typically two years, and I doubted my ability to complete it going full-time. With self-advocacy, I requested doing the program at a reduced course load and was granted permission to do the program part-time.


During my studies, I learned what it meant to advocate for myself to reach my goals. I struggled with reading and writing, as well as time constraints on evaluations, but each accommodation made a difference. While it took me four years to complete, I was the first Camosun College student to graduate from the dental hygiene program part-time.

It was not without challenges, though. I received pushback from some instructors and students who believed that if I couldn’t do school full-time, I shouldn’t do it at all. I also faced harsh criticism from some classmates regarding my accommodations. However, I worked hard and listened to every class twice, even auditing some courses a second time to refresh my memory on content I learned in previous years.

When I think about how much was involved in attending meetings, undergoing testing, arranging accommodations, and being accommodated, I realize how easy it would have been to give up before I started. But I knew what I wanted, and that determination motivated me to go through the process necessary to be formally identified as a student with a disability.

It was all worth it.

I graduated with distinction, receiving two awards, and the confidence in my abilities as a dental hygienist needed to excel in my work. I even was singled out for special praise from an instructor who said that I taught the faculty that there are different ways in which people learn, and that I created solutions to make the program more inclusive.


Now that I am working as a registered dental hygienist (RDH), I am receiving excellent performance reviews and showing myself to be highly competent. Almost one year into my career, I am breaking the stigma of learning disabilities and creating new opportunities for the future.

My story is important to share because it can benefit others in the future and help give them a chance to go through a program part-time in a way that allows them to succeed and be supported with accommodations. I have already been the face of hope, encouraging parents of children with learning disabilities, giving them hope for their children’s futures despite having a learning disability.

My dental hygiene journey is a testament to the power of perseverance and self-advocacy. I hope my story can inspire others to pursue their dreams and overcome any obstacles they may face.

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