We were we really holding our breath that the ADHA, while evaluating dental hygiene education, would say something like, "Everybody just needs to go complete a bachelor's degree! We know you're tired, but put the kids to bed and study until you fall asleep too"?
The perception is about how much education is needed, and there's never enough of it-regardless of whether it's the minimum of required continuing education credits or the associate's degree. Dental hygiene evolved into a profession of primarily clinicians who earned associate's degrees. Dental hygienists would get involved in a discussion with those doctors of dental surgery or those doctors of dental medicine, and the outlook seemed one-sided. The discussions could be in the hallway outside an operatory, or in the halls outside a legislative assembly. Who's the bystander going to listen to? "Should I brush for two minutes or three minutes? What did that doctor of dental surgery say?"
Education strengthens the power of the voice-or, at least until you become snobbish about it. "It behooves me to inform you ..."
Then there's the money. Until fairly recently, the bachelor's degree always translated into more income for most occupations. However, a study out of Georgetown University in 2013 confirmed that 30% of Americans with associate's degrees earned more money than their counterparts with a bachelor's degree. But, as any dental hygienist with an aching back knows, the degree didn't matter that much anyway. Dental offices pay pretty much the same amount regardless of the degree achieved, as long as the license is valid.
To be clear, the American Dental Hygienists' Association believes the effort to complete a bachelor's degree is as important as ever. But the association's recent efforts to "transform" dental hygiene education are much more broad based than what's nailed to the wall of the operatory.
The white paper, "Transforming Dental Hygiene Education and the Profession for the 21st Century," was released in September, culminating an investigative process that started well before a related symposium was hosted in 2013.
Does this sound like a profession wanting to own its destiny? "Part of the profession's responsibility to the public includes evaluating its own ability to provide care and taking the steps necessary to ensure its maximum effectiveness."
Kudos to the ADHA for initiating the transformation of how "dental hygiene graduates are prepared for the future."
What has helped the association set the tone is modest success in 37 states for dental hygienists to "provide various levels of direct access services." So the pioneers in California, Kansas, Minnesota, Maine, Oregon, etc., have allowed the national association to proclaim that dental hygienists can be very good at directly delivering care and oral health knowledge to the public. There's growth yet to be achieved in these states (hence my preference to describe it as "modest"), but a promising start has been made.
Dental hygienists interested in reading about these long-term objectives in dental hygiene education should read the white paper at the ADHA website. But the key points can be quickly summarized here. The association wants other professionals to "provide road maps." Why does dental hygiene need to reinvent the educational process if other health professionals have already undertaken the initiatives? A similar effort in nursing has "significant implications for dental hygienists," according to the ADHA.
The association wants dental hygiene students to prepare for their profession in collaboration with other health professions. Only about five dozen dental hygiene schools share a campus with a dental school or are located on a "health sciences" campus. One benefit sought here is that, if everyone else thoroughly understands what a dental hygienist brings to the table, then a more productive environment of care will result.
The ADHA also believes dental hygiene education will benefit from faculty who possess advanced degrees. Idaho State University, for example, is attempting this year to start a program for a doctorate in dental hygiene education.
And, yes, the association is reporting progress among entry level dental hygiene schools to establish "articulation agreements to enable students to transition from a community college to a university." However, take a look at Lory Laughter's article on page 50 about the shaky accreditation behind some degree completion programs.