From politics to dentistry is a leap, according to Misty Williams, dental director of the Community Health Center of Central Missouri.
"But it's less of a leap if you know how I got into politics," she explained.
Williams said she was pre-med in college when attacks on U.S. soil happened on 9/11.
That's when Williams, who is from New Hampshire, switched her focus to political science.
"I wanted to do counterterrorism," she said. "I worked in D.C. doing a little bit of counterterrorism for an internship prior to graduation."
However, the field was harder to get into because "everybody" wanted to be involved with it in 2004, when she was graduating from college. She ended up doing campaigns instead and worked for the U.S. Senate for a while.
Alas, the life of a campaigner took its toll. She moved six times in two years.
Every time a campaign ended, she had to find another job. Williams needed something more stable and decided to return to health care.
"I wasn't sure I wanted to get into medicine," she said, thinking about the years of commitment it would involve. "I had a friend who was a dentist, and I shadowed him."
After shadowing a couple of other people, she realized she really liked dentistry and decided to give it a try.
Things progressed just as she anticipated.
Then, while attending dental school at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, she got an opportunity to do a rotation at the CHCCM.
"That really was eye-opening for me," Williams said.
She had never considered going into public health. Her path, she thought, was through private practice.
The CHCCM dental director at the time convinced her Jefferson City was the place to go.
"I loved it," Williams said. "So, when I was trying to figure out what to do after school, this was the first place I stopped."
If they were looking, she wanted to work at the center.
They were. And they hired her.
It's a perfect fit, Williams said.
Like many of her clients, she grew up having to use Medicaid services. Her father was in the picture, but her mother raised her as a single parent, working multiple jobs.
Medicaid is there to help people get a leg up, she said, which is what the center is geared toward.
"We didn't have much money growing up," Williams said. "And it has been very rewarding for me to give back to the same kind of person I grew up as."
The focus of the clinic is to help as many patients as it can, she said. A goal is to solve the access-to-care problem many communities face.
Caregivers at the center want their patient populations to know they're nearby and accessible. They want patients to know they're going to do what they can to help patients be healthy, both through medical services — including behavioral health services — and their dental services.
"Dental care is hugely important to the overall health of an individual," Williams said. "We've seen that in many studies. So it's very important for us to get our medical patients involved in our dental program. And that's a big push for us."