Friday, 1 July 2011

Dental Hygiene education

Following are some thoughts about dental hygiene gaining degree education. It is important that dental hygienists are able to obtain a degree, not as a matter of  a ‘credential’ to carry out the role of dental hygiene. A degree will not improve opportunities for employment or financial gain for dental hygienists in dental private practice. Additional knowledge  gained from a degree program will benefit dental hygienists.
The problem as I see it now is, if  dental hygiene college graduates   become dissatisfied in private dental practices (dentists the primary employer) dental hygienists do not have the credentials to easily change jobs.
I believe it is important to have the ability to complete a degree though/after the present dental hygiene diploma programs.
Recently, I have seen and heard the term, ‘creeping credentialism’. ( Physiotherapy  and respiratory  therapy now require an MA for entrance to practice.) DH has been caught in this entry to practice issue as several Universities were about  to implement  degree programs.
I  wondered what ‘creeping credentialism’ meant although I did not give it much thought  until I began to read  Jane Jacobs  book  In Dark Age Ahead   chapter 3, titled ‘credentialing versus educating’  Jacobs speaks to  credentialing and education.
“Credentialing, not educating , has become the primary business of education of North American universities.” .. “the credential is … a passport to a consideration for a job.”
Today, young people recognize that post secondary education is a key to a good job.
Her words provoked my thought.
From her comments I don’t think DH fits in the category of ’credential’ rather we are presently in the ‘training’ category. Credential as I understand it now, refers to a degree. It seems to me that we are encouraging DHs to obtain a degree so dental hygienists have a greater understanding of social issues, a broader general knowledge than they can gain in the present diploma structure. With increased knowledge dental hygienists can provide oral health care in areas of society beyond the private dental practice. If  dental hygienists are dissatisfied with private practice they have a means to move to another career without having to start all over again.
The degree is not going to increase DHs ability to obtain jobs in private practice. Most dental practices won’t pay for the university ‘credential’. However without a degree in CA society today the majority of DHs are ‘dead ended’
On the dismal side of things perhaps the students won’t get an ‘education’ in a degree program. Another note of Jacobs:
Expansion of first rate faculty … has not kept pace with expansion of enrollments and courses offered; professors lack the time and energy they could once devote to personal contact with students. … so many papers to mark, relative to numbers and qualities of mentors to mark them, changed the nature of the test papers. Some came to  consist of True or False? and  which of the following is correct?” types of questions, fit for robots to answer and to rate rather than stimulants and assessments of critical thinking and depth of understanding…
Ever the idealist, I still believe that a student does gain a broader range of knowledge in a general degree program, despite Jacob’s comments.
Perhaps DHEC and CDHA can be influential at the Federal level to release the ‘hold’ on dental hygiene degree programs, and to encourage more degree completion linkages.  Dental hygienists with  a degree, the ‘credential’ will have more ‘knowledge’ about various social issues, and  hopefully more respect as oral health care providers. In my opinion oral health providers need greater visibility throughout society if the health of the mouth is to be taken seriously.

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