by Juli Kagan, RDH, MEd, and Lisa Garcia-Heintskill, RDH, BS
Are you bored with the rudimentary tasks of dental hygiene day after day? Do you want to take on more challenges? Do you want to become a leader in your organization or profession? Do you sometimes wish you had a different job? Do you have a desire to expand your knowledge or your “self”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time for you to return to school to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree. But do you have family obligations, financial considerations, or time constraints that could keep you from achieving this goal? Think again! With the advent of online education programs, obtaining another degree is easier than you can imagine!
Acquiring an education online allows you to study at your convenience - late in the evening, early in the morning, at home, in the office, or on vacation. Some online programs allow you to learn at your own pace, while others provide professor-directed and paced education. In both cases, you determine the time and place where you study, because all you need is a computer and access to the Internet!
According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, as of Nov. 2006, 22 degree completion dental hygiene programs are available online. Programs run the gamut, providing as few as one class to nearly every required class online. Six universities offer distance-learning programs, where students never even have to visit the campus. One such institution is Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. NSU offers online Bachelor of Health Science (BHSc), Master of Health Science (MHSc), and Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) degree programs specifically designed to allow health professionals such as dental hygienists to obtain their degrees while continuing to work.
The advantages of these NSU programs over others are:
- NSU and its degree programs are accredited
- The BHSc and MHSc programs are designed for completion in a 100 percent online format and require no on-campus time
- Coursework is professor-directed and professor-paced - not correspondence coursework
- Qualified faculty consists of health educators and health professionals
- Previous credit hours are transferable
- Courses are offered on a 12-week semester calendar, allowing students four terms a year in which to take classes
- This is not another dental hygiene degree, but a degree that can provide increased educational and career opportunities to the hygienist.
The curricula are designed to build upon the existing knowledge of the health-care professional while focusing on current issues that impact health care today. The courses of study are interdisciplinary and designed to provide career and academic advancement opportunities for health-care practitioners, as well as deliver a well-rounded curriculum. Health-care management, diversity, research, and education are a few of the areas that might be of special interest to dental hygiene professionals. Another highlight of the BHSc curriculum is that it dovetails with the demands of the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practicum (ADHP) at the master’s level.
Another advantage of the program was determined by the Web-based Education Commission, which was appointed by President Clinton in Nov. 1999. The Commission identified that Web-based education could center learning around the student instead of the classroom, focus on the strengths and needs of individual students, and make lifelong learning a reality.1 Many studies have demonstrated that there is not a significant difference in Web-based and classroom-based learning. The commission also stated, “The Internet is perhaps the most transformative technology in history, reshaping business, media, entertainment, and society in astonishing ways. But for all its power, it is just now being tapped to transform education.”
Distance learning is becoming the rage among professionals who have demanding lives. Lisa Garcia-Heintskill knows this. She lacks two courses in order to earn her MHSc degree. Here are her comments.
Briefly, share your work experience before you decided to go for further schooling.
Prior to entering the MHSc program, I was working full time in private practice and part time at NSU as an adjunct faculty member in the dental clinic while raising my family. After being around some of the most amazing faculty and students at NSU, I decided I wanted more for my career and myself, and I chose higher education.
What prompted you to want another degree?
My desire to pursue a higher degree began when I realized the unbelievable opportunities I would have as a dental hygienist with a master’s degree in health science, such as administration, community health, research, and education. After working in private practice for 21 years, it was time for me to stimulate my intellect once again and give back to my community as an educator.
How hard was it to get accepted into the program? Did you have to take the GRE or any other exam?
To get into the program I needed a bachelor’s degree in an area of health science. After that, it was as simple as applying and mailing official transcripts. No other entrance exams were necessary.
What are the advantages of an online program?
The beauty of online distance education is that I don’t have to leave my family or sacrifice my job or any other important obligations in my life. This type of education has met both my personal and educational needs. It really works for me because I have a husband and two small children and need to be home in the evening. I can plan studying around my family without compromising either one.
Are there any disadvantages to going to school online?
The only disadvantage, if I had to choose one, would be that I don’t get to meet my fellow classmates, and therefore, I miss the interpersonal communication of the classroom. It is a blessing that I live in South Florida and have the opportunity to visit my instructors on campus and put faces with names. But I would have to say that the benefits of an online education outweigh any disadvantages. It’s all about time management and the countless rewards of personal growth.
How hard was it to get up to speed with the computer?
It was challenging initially because I had to learn to use “webCT” (online instruction) to communicate and submit assignments. After a brief orientation from the instructor and support from other students, I was on my way. Most importantly, each student has the privilege of working with an academic advisor who guides and supports his or her educational decisions throughout the program.
What financial concerns, if any, did you encounter when applying for the program?
Finances were definitely a concern. However, financial aid, scholarships, and grants are available through the school’s financial aid department. Financial aid advisors are also there to answer your questions.
What advice would you give to prospective students?
Have an open mind regarding the endless opportunities of online education, and always strive for more personal growth for yourself and your profession. You deserve it! It’s a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.
Knowledge is power - power that gives rise to better choices, unusual opportunities, different options, and personal preferences. What are you waiting for? In a year-and-a-half you will be another 18 months older. Obtaining your online degree is easier than ever. Go for it!
1 Kerrey B, Isakson J. The power of the Internet for learning: moving from promise to practice report of the Web-based education commission. Washington D.C., 2000.
Lisa Garcia-Heintskill, RDH, BS, (right) is an adjunct clinical instructor at Nova Southeastern University, College of Dental Medicine, Ft. Lauderdale. With more than 22 years of experience in private practice, she is currently completing her Master’s of Health Science at NSU and plans to continue in the fall of 2007 in the doctorate program. She can be reached at (954) 592-6990 or by e-mail at [email protected].
Juli Kagan, RDH, MEd, (left) teaches periodontology and preventive dentistry at Broward Community College and instrumentation and clinical application at Nova Southeastern University, both in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She is the facilitator for hygienists for the BHSc program at Nova and a certified Pilates instructor. She can be reached at (561) 305-5854 or by e-mail at [email protected].