Although an extrovert at work, Marcia Mastracci Ditmyer says she really is a homebody who relishes spending time alone.
As the UNLV Dental School’s associate dean of education, her job involves ensuring the success of and monitoring all academic programs, facilitating effective educational policies/protocols, collaborating on planning strategic initiatives, and providing administrative oversight in areas of curriculum development, institutional assessment and improvement, and programmatic accreditation. When the pandemic hit, her epidemiologist training was put to use investigating best practices, analyzing statistics, and helping develop safe practices for faculty, staff, and students.
How many years have you worked at UNLV?
I started on the Maryland campus in the School of Community Health Sciences (now the School of Public Health) in 2003. I joined UNLV Dental Medicine in 2005 and have been there ever since.
Tell us about a time in your life you were daring.
I used to think I couldn’t be any more daring than when I worked in law enforcement as an undercover police officer. However, I have found these last few months working within the pandemic to be the most challenging. Our administrative team developed innovative ways to ensure our fourth-year students were able to complete all necessary requirements before graduation. Our administrative team worked in an integrated way to develop strategies to ensure continuity of the curriculum and for a phased reopening of the patient clinics.
What inspired you to get into your field?
Actually, when I grew up I wanted to be an FBI agent, but during the late ’60s and early ’70s, only accountants or lawyers became field agents. With my degree in criminology, I turned to law enforcement. I have always loved figuring things out. The mathematician in me was the reason I went back to school and earned an MBA and MS in health education and wellness. I just loved school and so I decided to keep going. It was after my first career when I decided to go back and get my PhD in public health. I love being an epidemiologist because it allows me to use the analytical skills I love to investigate and solve problems.
What is the biggest misconception about your field?
I always get asked what I think about being in the health profession. There is more than just credentialing that is required in my field. The core responsibilities and competencies of the profession describe the foundational knowledge and skills relevant to contemporary public health. Also, as an advanced-level health education practitioner, I feel I have gone beyond credentials and into the heart of the profession that includes required skills and expertise needed for a position in the field of health education and promotion.
Tell me about an “aha” moment in your career.
That is a tough question. My father used to tell people that I was a professional student because I went back to school so often. I love to learn. When I look back at my life, I see the happiness I have felt, the pain I’ve endured, my successes, my mistakes, the good times I have enjoyed, and the hard times I’ve suffered. When I look in the mirror, I see how strong I am, the lessons I learned, and how proud I am of who I have become.
Who did you look up to in your field when you first started?
While my father was not a health educator, he was an educator. I always looked up to my father. He was the greatest man I ever knew and a wonderful role model. I admired his ideals, his words, and his actions. He led by example. He showed me unconditional love and was always there when I needed him. It wasn’t that he was easy on me. He instilled a strong work ethic and taught me that it is okay to make mistakes. He said making mistakes is human, but every mistake should teach you how to get back up and learn from what happened. He said that it is important to be reflective and learn your lesson. I have always tried to live by those words.
What was your greatest day on campus? And your toughest?
Right now — both great and tough. Getting through this COVID-19 is both a great accomplishment and one of the toughest things I have had to face. Just 18 days before the accreditation site visit, it was cancelled due to this pandemic. It was 18 months to two years of work, only to be faced with this new challenge.
Tell us about an object in your office.
The candy dishes. Every time someone comes into my office and grabs a piece of candy, that represents my openness to people no matter who they are or what they want. Sometimes it is just to say hello and that is great!
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am an introvert. Most people would guess me to be an extrovert. That is what I represent at work because of my position. When I leave work, I love being by myself. That quiet serenity is heaven. The other thing that might surprise people is that I am a military history buff. My brother and I love to read, watch, and visit anything military.
What problem in the world would you most like to fix?
I would like to make the world healthy and sprinkle some magic dust to make people be more kind and considerate to one another.
What’s your biggest pet peeve at work or in life?
My biggest pet peeve is people who don’t step up to the plate. We all play a role and everyone should take their role seriously. Of course, let’s not forget the crazy drivers on the road – oh yes, another pet peeve.
What was the last book you couldn’t put down?
Any action and/or mystery. I also love biographies. The answer to this is tough because I read all the time. Among my favorite authors are Michael Connelly, Heather Graham, Iris Johansen, and James Patterson, to name a few.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Vanilla ice cream
Ideal summer vacation?
Being with my family in Michigan
What is it like being on campus just now? What is the atmosphere?
I think overall people at the dental school have stepped up to the plate and have done a stellar job. Many might not realize this, but we never shut down completely. A small contingent stayed and treated emergency patients. We worked to get our fourth-year students graduated and brought back students as early as mid-April to continue their curriculum. We never skipped a beat, and I am so proud of the UNLV Dental Medicine team.
What's the same and what's different about your day-to-day now from your normal day on campus?
Before COVID-19, I was preparing for our programmatic accreditation site visit, so for the past 18 months I was working on that every day. That was canceled 18 days before it was to take place. Devastating. Then came the pandemic. I have been on campus since the beginning, working every day. We are on Stage 2 and will begin Stage 3 reopening to all students and patients June 29. Once things go back to some normalcy, I guess I go back to preparing for accreditation. It has been nice to use my training as an epidemiologist to help create safety protocols designed to protect our faculty, staff, students/residents, and patients.
What's the silver lining in all of this for you?
Should this happen in the future — and it likely will — we will be prepared with a plan.