Beating the National Boards

March 21, 2012

Students in the dental hygiene program at the College of DuPage in west suburban Chicago recently celebrated their entry into the profession with a pinning ceremony. Besides successfully completing the classes they needed to graduate, they also had another reason to celebrate. All but one of the 28 students in the class of 2011 passed the National Board Dental Hygiene examination.  The dental hygiene program is on a roll. In the previous seven years, 100 percent of the students taking the exam passed it.

Students in the dental hygiene program at the College of DuPage in west suburban Chicago recently celebrated their entry into the profession with a pinning ceremony.

Besides successfully completing the classes they needed to graduate, they also had another reason to celebrate. All but one of the 28 students in the class of 2011 passed the National Board Dental Hygiene examination.  The dental hygiene program is on a roll. In the previous seven years, 100 percent of the students taking the exam passed it.

Professor Patricia Belmonte, who coordinates the dental hygiene program at the college, said there are a variety of reasons why the program is successful.

The first has to do with choosing students who are ready to excel. The requirements made of students seeking to enter the program including performing well on pre-requisite classes and an aptitude test.

Students must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 from a 4.0 GPA on the four pre-requisite sciences classes which include Anatomy & Physiology I and II, Microbiology and Chemistry.

Due to the number of pre-requisite classes, students in the dental hygiene program at College of DuPage usually are enrolled in a minimum of three semesters of college courses in order to apply to the dental hygiene program.

The program’s admissions committee looks at how the students perform on the PSB Health Occupations Aptitude Examination. The test covers students’ aptitude in such areas as verbal skills, non-verbal spatial relationship, spelling, reading comprehension, and natural sciences.

Students are allowed to take the aptitude test twice in a lifetime. However, if the applicant chooses they can take it twice in the same application year.

“If you keeping taking it you’re going to pass eventually,” said Belmonte. “This (limiting students to taking the test twice) gives us a better grasp of whether they have the read comprehension and natural sciences knowledge to do well in the program.”

In addition to selecting students who are well-prepared, Belmonte said the veteran and full-time faculty be credited with assisting students to excel as they work toward their degrees.

The program employs three, full-time faculty members and 17 part-time faculty members. Both students and faculty have their eyes on preparing for the national board dental hygiene exam and the Northeast Regional Clinical Board Examination from the first day of classes.

“All didactic and clinical courses are geared toward preparing students for both the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and the clinical boards,” Belmonte said. “Test questions are formatted similar to the national board format, many program quizzes and tests are offered on-line to assist students in preparing to take the computerized national board exam, along with the computerized portion of the clinical board exam.”

Belmonte noted that the program’s curriculum is similar to all dental hygiene programs that are accredited through by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation.

She said most of the faculty members are veteran dental hygiene educators who have taught in several dental hygiene programs and bring a wealth of information to the program. Several faculty members are published in textbooks and dental and public health journals.

The program has an 18-chair clinical facility where students are taught pre-clinic skills in the first semester of the program. They learn instrumentation on dental mannequins and other students to help them begin treating patients in the second semester.

For anyone considering a career in dental hygiene –especially those who have never worked in a dental facility -- Belmonte advises potential applicants at the college’s program to shadow a dentist and dental hygienist to get an idea of what is involved in the dental profession.

“They have to know if they can put their hands in someone else’s mouth other than their children or significant other,” she said. “Dental hygienists see oral pathologies, handle blood, saliva and other conditions that some individuals would have a hard time dealing with,” she said.

When weighing a particular dental hygiene program, it is important to ask for statistics on the numbers of students that pass their national boards and clinical examination. Belmonte also noted that the majority of dental hygiene programs accept in-district students who meet the minimum program requirements before accepting applicants from outside the district.

“Some dental hygiene programs do not share the results of their students’ results on the two board examinations until they evaluate the students’ didactic and clinical evaluations.

At College of DuPage, with its high success rate, Belmonte said the program has good reason to be proud of their achievements and those statistics are readily available.  She also said the college’s administration is very supportive of the program.

“Without the support of the college administration, the program would not be as successful as it has been shown to be,” Belmonte said.