First Dental Hygiene Students Graduate to Promising Careers
When Laurie Stuart first met her patient volunteer, he was self-conscious about his smile and nervous about the dental process needed to improve his teeth. He sought assistance from Howard Community College’s Dental Hygiene Center. With its affordable cost, the center – an educational facility and community resource within the dental hygiene program – draws patient volunteers of all ages from the community, some who have had very little or no previous dental care.
Stuart, then a dental hygiene student, conducted a thorough examination, provided hygiene treatment, and discussed how to maintain good oral health. After he completed his second treatment, Stuart witnessed him transform into someone who was more positive and confident about his appearance.
“I found it very rewarding to know that I could make such a difference,” said Stuart, who is now working as a registered dental hygienist. “For people who get regular treatments, the final outcome is not as dramatic as compared to someone who does not have access to care. But for those individuals like my patient volunteer, who did not have access to regular care, seeing the impact made and knowing that I took part in that change is truly inspiring.”
Stuart was one of 12 graduates from the inaugural class of the Howard Community College dental hygiene program. The program started in the fall of 2014, and students earned their degrees at the commencement ceremony in May 2016.
“This first class of students was very motivated,” said Susan Seibel, chair of the dental hygiene program. “It was rewarding to contribute to students going into my profession.”
Howard Community College (HCC) is one of four community colleges with a dental hygiene program in Maryland, and one of 300 schools across the country offering the curricula. The HCC program prepares students to sit for the National Board and the Northeast Regional Board examinations to earn the title Registered Dental Hygienists.
With a focus on experiential learning, the program develops competencies and prepares students to manage real-life patients. With no more than 16 students admitted to the program each fall, students work on mannequins in simulation laboratories, and then progress to practicing on student partners, before advancing to providing services to patient volunteers at the Dental Hygiene Center. During two years of study, each student works with least 50 patient volunteers, amounting to more than 700 community members served.
Reflecting upon her past two years, recent graduate Rosemary Lee cites facilities such as the Dental Hygiene Center and patient volunteers for inspiring her.
“It was easy to walk in every morning,” Lee recalled. “I’ve been lucky to find community patients who have followed me through all two years. I’ve been able to help patients who would not have been able to access dental hygiene otherwise.”
The employment outlook for dental hygienists is strong. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth of 19 percent is expected over the next eight years, and dental hygienists are among the top-earning careers for associate degree graduates. The American Dental Association calls dental hygiene one of the 30 fastest growing occupations.
Since launching the dental hygiene program, HCC has seen greater numbers of prospective students apply for each fall class. For this coming fall, there were nearly 150 applications for 16 seats.
Program chair Susan Seibel also believes students are attracted to the profession’s flexible hours and diverse career opportunities at private dental offices, community clinics, hospitals, prison facilities, nursing homes, and schools. In addition, recent changes to dental hygienists’ job responsibilities in Maryland have helped drive a high level of interest, since dental hygienists now can administer local anesthetic, monitor nitrous oxide, and work without dentists on the premises.
Lee will soon experience these benefits firsthand. She recently obtained her licensure and is now a registered dental hygienist in Maryland, working at a dental practice.
“I have been working so hard toward this goal,” explained Lee. “I am ready to enter the workforce.”
For more information, watch this video spotlighting the Dental Hygiene class.