Hannah Pederson, Reporter
This past year, Pierce College Fort Steilacoom Dental Hygiene Program Director Monica Hospenthal gained approval for her bachelor’s degree program.
For a student in Washington state pursuing any sort of degree in dental hygiene, the first step is to complete two years of prerequisites at a junior college, which provides exposure to anatomy, psychology, chemistry and a variety of other courses. Next is an associate degree, which requires two years of dental hygiene focused courses to prepare the student for work in a clinic. If the student plans on completing a bachelor’s, two years at a four-year college is required.
For a master’s degree, it takes another two years, again at a four-year institution.
Hospenthal noticed that her experience was the norm in the dental hygiene community, and after new state legislation was passed in 2005 that allowed community colleges to petition the state to allow them to offer four-year degrees, she says she saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
Seattle Central Community College was the pioneer, launching a bachelor’s in applied behavioral science in 2009 and other community colleges soon followed.
This new legislation meant that Hospenthal could shave two years off her students’ education. Some may view this as a negative thing, thinking that students need as much education and experience as they can get. However, Pierce’s dental hygiene program has always offered the same curriculum that a student would find at a four-year college, but since the program is housed in a community college, they legally couldn’t offer a four-year degree.
When Hospenthal launched work on the BASDH in 2013, she was ecstatic. From may of 2014 to February of 2015, she met with the program directors of other community colleges who had bachelor’s programs, program directors at universities and anyone else who could help her achieve this goal. The end product of this endeavor is a bachelor’s program of 192 credits completed over eight quarters (not including two years of prerequisites) as opposed to the associates program of 189.5 credits over seven quarters.
As for the added 2.5 credits of the bachelor’s degree, they cover material that had already been incorporated in the associates, but could be expanded on to enhance student’s learning.
“I stretched it (the program) over eight quarters to provide a balanced and equitable workload to promote student success,” Hospenthal said. She believes that the extra quarter will have a positive impact on the stress levels of students and faculty.
The dental hygiene site’s homepage encourages students in the program not to work while enrolled, as “the average number of weekly class hours ranges from approximately 25-30 hours,” and out of class study time can range from 20-30 hours per week.
Christina Welch, who graduated from Pierce’s associate degree program in June and became a registered dental hygienist four weeks later, described a typical day in the program. It starts as class or clinic-style learning at 7 a.m., setting up at 8 a.m., working on a patient for three and a half hours, a one hour lunch break, another three and a half hour patient session, then filling out her charts, cleaning up and heading out by 5:30 p.m.
She attended Pierce’s dental hygiene program because she knew it had the strongest reputation out of those in the area, and four months after graduating, she has a full time job as an RDH in addition to doing temp work one day a week.
Under the tutelage of such professors as Hospenthal, Welch believes she came out a well rounded dental hygienist prepared for pretty much anything a clinic could throw her way.
“We don’t just clean teeth, we treat the patient,” Welch said.
The total cost for eight quarters of tuition, textbooks and fees is $34,966. This number doesn’t include the two years of prerequisites and the board examination fee required to become an RDH. Before this program, students pursuing a bachelor’s in dental hygiene only had one option: two years of prerequisites, two years completing their associates, and another two years in a degree completion program.
The BASDH application deadline is this December, beginning class in summer of 2016 and will phase out the associate degree program the following academic year. More information can be found on the program’s home page.
This new program will provide a way for dental hygiene students to diversify their knowledge and enter the workforce two years earlier than previously possible.
“Time is invaluable,” Hospenthal said
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