Rachel Simmons to Retire After 40 Years

School of Dentistry

The School of Dentistry will be losing one of its most beloved teachers this spring.  Ms. Rachel Simmons will retire after 40 years at UCSF.

Ms. Simmons started working here in 1973 as a dental assistant, and since 2006, has been Managing Supervisor of Radiology Services.  Known for her imperturbably calm demeanor, her sweet, almost maternal affect, and always perfect radiographic technique, she will be dearly missed by all the students who have worked under her caring, firm guidance. 

Ms. Simmons grew up in Oklahoma, where she played basketball with what must have been a high level of proficiency, because she was offered a full ride to college in Wyoming.  However, she declined, instead going to dental assisting school in Kansas City and subsequently moving out to California to seek employment. 

Carrying a letter of accommodation from a Kansas City oral surgeon whom she had worked, she interviewed at UCSF and was offered a job on the spot.  She started working that very same day. 

Many of the dentists who are now UCSF faculty were originally her students, and she has shepherded literally two generations of dentists through these halls, having taught both father and progeny in at least two instances: Finzen, father and son; and Lopez, father and son and daughter.

Over the years, she has developed a reputation for teaching students how to successfully pass their Boards, and every year, has guided students through that stressful weekend. In dentistry, the final Board exam is a practical test involving timed work on real patients.

Recently, I stopped by the Radiology Department to have a chat with Ms. Simmons about her life and career.

Synapse: Looking back on the whole journey, what would you say has been the most satisfying aspect of your time here at the School of Dentistry?

Simmons: In the beginning, I didn’t have any concept of what type of job this was in relation to the education part.  As time passed, I began to see the importance of educating the students — that’s really the objective of the whole job.  This gave me the drive to prepare myself to always be at a level where they could learn the most from me.  I was able to acquire my vocational teaching credentials from the University of California Extension.

I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the success of the students going through radiology.  Having achieved a certain amount of knowledge, I am able to help them — I really enjoy that part.  Not only the UCSF students but also students from the dental assisting colleges who come and do their rotations here.”

Synapse: I know you haven’t always been the Radiology Supervisor.  What other roles have you had here?

Simmons: Originally, I was hired as an assistant in the Oral Surgery Department, but after a year, I moved to the Dental Auxiliary Utilization Program at the pedodontic clinic.  Back in those days, they had assistants for the dental students so they could learn how four-handed dentistry would work once they were in the private setting.  So that’s what I did for about 12 years. Then I was promoted to the faculty group practice at the San Francisco General Hospital Community Clinics, which are now closed down, before finally coming over to Radiology.

I’ve had a fascinating career, starting from assistant and now to have come up to this level at the University here.  I was trying to think, “Now how did I get here?”  Most people aren’t even married for 40 years!

Synapse: When did you get involved with the Western Regional Exam Board?

Simmons: Well, back then, it was the California Boards.  It’s only been Western Regional for the last 15 years or so.  But yes, I started helping students on their boards back in the very beginning— Herbert, Finzen, Silva, Artiga, Mendoza—I helped all of their classes during boards.  I realized that the proper prep—converging walls, the beveling and all that—was only a small part of it. Being calm is more important.  I would tell them, “You’re going to have to relax and calm down and do what you need to do within the time frame” and then they’d be OK.

Synapse: I see you have many awards on your wall here (Outstanding Employee Award ’97, Staff Recognition and Development Award ’10, UCSF Service Award ’09, Chancellors Award ’83). Which one are you most proud of?

Simmons: The one I’m most proud of was the very first one I got, because I didn’t expect it.  It was the Chancellor’s Award. I’d been working about ten years then, and it made me feel like “Wow, I’m really doing something here.” That was nice.

(At this point Ms. Simmons’ understudy and Radiology Technician since 2004, Frank Vinculado, who has been listening to the interview, adds a comment.)

Vinculado: Ms. Rachel has like a million awards — there are so many that they couldn’t all fit on the wall!

Synapse: Frank, can you say a few words about how it’s been, working under Ms. Simmons?

Vinculado: It’s been wonderful working with Ms. Rachel.  She’s provided a lot of information and wisdom for me on my career path.  Even though she may not think she is, she’s a great role model.  It’s going to be hard around here without her.

Synapse: Ms. Simmons, how have you liked living in San Francisco, and do you ever miss the South?

Simmons: I like San Francisco, I’ve been here a long time now, my kids grew up here.  After the youngest one went to college, I lived in San Jose for seven years, but now I’m back in SF.  And I don’t miss the South, never wanted to go back.  San Francisco is a place that’s really melded, all kinds of different people living together here . . . You know, people sometimes don’t get along very well, we human beings often have so many biases towards others, but I have found, overall, it is less visible here.

Synapse: So what are your plans for retirement?

Simmons: My plans?  First I’m trying to resolve a few health problems, like my right knee surgery coming up.  Also, I want to reignite my pursuit of my Christian faith education — I started long ago, but through family and work, it has been delayed.  In the years of perseverance and endurance, my faith has been the truest and most constant valuable foundation in my life, that is always there.  It is important to live realistically, knowing we are all going to leave this world one day.  So I am happy to move on that others may carry on, and with a great deal of thanks for this milestone in my life.