Back to school? A second degree after dental hygiene school requires careful consideration

March 16, 2016
Jannette Whisenhunt reviews factors to be considered when returning to further education after dental hygiene school.

By Jannette Whisenhunt

You were so glad when you finished hygiene school, feeling relieved to finally get your "regular life" back. No more studying every night, and no books and notes all over the house. Well, maybe not. Maybe you are having thoughts of going back to school to finish a degree. It may be that you want to get your bachelor's degree or even a graduate degree. Let's take a quick look at what you need to think about first before you make the plunge-again.

One of the first things to seriously consider is: What do you want to do with your higher degree? Having your bachelor's degree can open up more opportunities than your associate's degree. But which avenue do you want to go down in the future? There are a few areas that you could focus on-education, sales, and public health-which could complement your dental education.

Are there networking opportunities that you can explore to determine if there are any job openings in that career area? Is there a school in your area with a program that you would like to teach in someday? Have you made contact with the director at that school to see if they need any instructors or help in their clinic?

Education is definitely a field in dental hygiene that has a good outlook for the future, because many educators will be retiring during the next five to 10 years. Teaching part-time will give you a foot in the door for any permanent positions that may open up. It may be that part-time teaching is exactly what you want, and that way you can have something new to add to your part-time clinical position.

If you are thinking about using your bachelor's degree to obtain a sales representative position for a dental company, then you need to think about what networking options you have now. Do you know what is involved with being a sales rep? Would you be able to travel as much as needed? Are you good at remembering names and faces? You meet new people in offices every day, and you would need to be personable and friendly, as well as very knowledgeable about your products.

Most people that work in dental sales enjoy the part of their job when they meet people and get to talk about their products. But you also have to think about all of the weekends at dental meetings, manning a booth in an exhibit hall. Are you willing to work on weekends?

Desired Job?

No matter what area you want to use your higher degree in, you need to look at the pros and cons for the new job. You need to think whether you could really handle dealing with the undesirable parts of that job. No matter what future field you are looking into, there are undesirable parts to any job. Going into it with a realistic outlook will be beneficial for you, and you will not be disillusioned.

Going back to school is always stressful, even if is it something that you really want to do. You remember the sacrifices that you had to make in order to finish your first degree. Are you ready to make those sacrifices again? Will it be easier for you to go to school this time? Are things better at home? Are the kids older and able to take care of themselves now? Make the determination of whether the schoolwork will be worth your time, effort, and money. I don't mean this in a way that will discourage you. But it is a serious decision to make. When it gets tough and you have to pay for classes and your time is limited, are you still going to want to do it? Do you have the inner drive to encourage yourself when times get tough?

After you have had a long time to think about your goals, then you have to start the investigation of where and how you can get that degree. Using the internet is an easy way to get started by narrowing down the search quickly. Is there a program close by that you can attend in person, at night, on weekends, or are there any programs that are exclusively online? If you want to go into sales, then maybe a communications degree is what you need. Be sure to investigate fully so that there are not any undesirable surprises later on.

Will your previous college courses transfer to that college? Many times, graduates think that they will be able to start as a junior at a university because they already have an associate's degree, but that is not always the case. You need to talk to a qualified advisor at the university to ensure that they will take the maximum credits that you have completed. It may surprise you to know that some of the classes you took before you got into your hygiene program may also still be valuable, so be sure to turn in all of your college transcripts when you discuss what credits you can start with.

You also need to ask about specific testing that may be required for that program. If you already have your bachelor's degree and are looking into earning a graduate degree, then the GRE or Graduate Record Exam will be required for most graduate schools. This exam gives your dental hygiene national board exam a run for the money! It is extremely difficult and you need to study for it like you did for your national board. After you get your score, you will be placed in the master's or doctoral level for a degree. There is an expiration date on the GRE also, so be sure not to wait too long to enroll in a graduate program after you take the GRE.

Whatever your future goals may be for furthering your education, you know it will take time and effort and that, in the end, it will be worth it! Furthering your education is always an investment in yourself, and something that no one can ever take away from you. I have spent many years in the student's role, and I truly enjoy learning. It does take a good support system at home and lots of time and energy, but it may open up a whole new world to you, and you will be glad that you made the sacrifices. I hope that you make that decision to further your education, and to do it for yourself.

Happy scaling!RDH


Graduate Record Exam website:

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].