Choosing a Dental Hygienist School
April 21, 2014
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If you are looking for a high-paying job in a growing field, consider working as a dental hygienist. The national median salary is very competitive, and anticipated job growth is high. However, before you apply to dental hygienist school, you must first consider these key things.
Define Your Career Goals
The first thing to consider before applying to any program is exactly what kind of hygienist work you are interested in. The occupation is not limited to being a clinician in a dentist's office. According to the American Dental Hygienist Association, there are several types of pathways:
- Community Health Workers: The goal of community public health services is to provide medical care to people who have no other way to get it. You might find yourself working for Indian Health Service, the National Health Service Corps or for Head Start programs with underserved rural and inner city children.
- Dental Hygiene Educators: Currently, dental instructors are in great demand. You can help meet that need by directing your career focus toward teaching. Only dental hygienists can adequately teach others.
- Administrative Hygienists: Corporate dental hygienists work in sales, research or product promotion. They are also sometimes hired as corporate educators.
- Researchers: Nonprofit organizations, universities and the government need dental hygienists to conduct research. With advanced degrees or extensive experience, you may have the opportunity to lead a program or agency.
- Entrepreneurs: Whether you create a nonprofit program, invent and market a product or work as a consultant, a degree from a dental hygienist school may spark or support entrepreneurial opportunities.
Certificate, Associate, Bachelor's or Graduate Degree
Fine-tuning your career objectives will guide you toward what type of hygienist education you need. Some dentists only hire graduates of an associate degree program, while others are fine with certificate graduates as long as they have plenty of experience.
An associate degree is beneficial, even necessary, if you plan to work for most corporations or government programs and agencies. This level of dental hygiene education is needed to successfully work as an entrepreneur as well.
You significantly increase your corporate and government marketability with a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. With a four-year degree and enough experience, you can also find work in leadership roles and administrative positions.
An advanced dental hygiene degree is necessary for most research and educator jobs. Because it demonstrates commitment and a willingness to work hard, a master's degree in dentistry can open many doors.
Find the Right Programs
If you have a particular interest in some area of dental hygiene or are considering advancing your education in the future, take a look at a school's curriculum. Most schools focus coursework strictly on clinical skills, while better programs offer fieldwork that can be more specialized. Beyond the clinician element, these classes might introduce you to specialties such as dental hygiene research, education, administration, advocacy, manufacturing or sales.
You should also carefully consider how much clinical education a school offers. For a typical associate degree program, you should expect at least two or three semesters of field practice. The more the better, and programs that skimp in field practicum should be avoided.
Having direction in your career path will help guide you to the programs that best meet your needs. There is variety out there, but probably no school will meet all of your criteria. Learn what you can about the faculty and read reviews from students and graduates. Look at certification exam passing rates and how many graduates are professionally employed and where. Be sure to determine whether they are properly accredited and recognized in your state.
Personal factors such as price, location and your circumstances should be considered as well. Some programs offer a hybrid curriculum with classroom experience and online courses, which can be helpful if you are in a unique situation. You can save yourself time and money in the application process if you carefully consider these factors earlier rather than later.
Whether you plan to work for a dentist, teach prospective hygienists or serve others, the right education can greatly increase your chances of thriving in the industry. With a little work, you can find the career path that most interests you and the dental hygienist school that will help you get there.
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