How a master’s degree can help you develop your dental hygiene career

Even though unemployement or underemployment remains a struggle for a large portion of dental hygienists, data from the US government indicates the demand for our profession will grow. A master's degree is as obtainable as ever and can help you stay competitive in this dynamic market, according to this author.

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Even though unemployement or underemployment remains a struggle for a large portion of dental hygienists, data from the US government indicates the demand for our profession will grow. A master's degree is as obtainable as ever and can help you stay competitive in this dynamic market, according to this author.

Even amidst high unemployment among dental hygienists, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting a 19% increase for our profession, which is “much faster than [the] average” of 7%. (1) With this demand comes a push for colleges to graduate more hygienists into a field that is currently saturated in most US areas. How is it that a hygienist stays afloat without burning out or being overqualified? It’s by exploring other options for a position outside of clinical practice through education.

Please do not get me wrong—clinical practice is a beyond-excellent position that I love. But despite how rewarding it is, over time it takes a major physical toll on us. If the thought of shifting out of clinical practice has ever crossed your mind, here are some avenues you can take. For some, you need only a bachelor’s degree, but the majority require a master’s degree.

READ MORE | Don't feel stuck! Career alternatives

Online education

With the increasing demand in the work force for higher degrees, it seems the number of people holding a master’s degree has gone up drastically. Gone are the days when you could get an associate’s degree and skate through the sales or education arenas. However, if you hold an associate’s degree and are seeking positions outside of clinical practice, do not be discouraged. With online education, another degree is not unreachable. Degree completion programs are designed so that students can work full time and go to school full time if they desire. You can complete your school work at any time you choose. With good time management and self-discipline, you can do it, even if you have a family. It is not a sprint. Your future can be laid out class by class and at a pace that is good for you. For a listing of online accredited bachelor degree completion programs in dental hygiene, visit the ADHA website. Do not limit your options to a program in your home state; getting credits across state lines is not an issue for many programs.

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So what types of jobs will this dedication lead to? Education, sales, writing, consulting, training, public health, coordinator, director, administrator—the list is endless. A dental hygiene foundation allows you to wear many hats. Just really think about what you would like to do and then go after the master’s degree that suits you. You can also consider obtaining a broad-spectrum master’s degree if you are uncertain of what you would like to do. A master’s in postsecondary technical education and training, for example, can lead you to positions outside education. A public health or allied health master’s degree also opens multiple doors.

Don't be afraid to be picky

With the variety of degrees and formats offered by universities, this is the time to be picky. Really think and research the school and degree you are seeking to match the job you would like. If you are considering a position in higher education, the rule of thumb is to obtain a degree at least one level above what you want to teach. For example, instructors of bachelor’s students usually must have master’s degrees. However, if you are teaching dental assisting, a bachelor’s degree is usually all that is required by the accreditation board. Think of the position you think you would love to have, then research and read the requirements. Keep in mind different companies and universities have different criteria, but generally your research should provide a pretty good foundation.

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Researching and beginning a master’s program is often a rollercoaster of emotion. You will be excited, nervous, scared and intimidated, especially if you have not been in school for a while. You must realize that you will succeed if you put in the time and effort. Having a master’s degree is an investment in your future and will open doors that otherwise would be blocked.

Reference
1. Dental hygienists. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm. Published December 17, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2016.


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Nicole Giesey, RDH, MSPTE, enjoys researching, writing, and educating on topics related to dental hygiene. She is the dental hygiene product specialist for Maxill. She can be contacted at nicolerdh03@neo.rr.com.

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