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A real hygienist’s journal, part II: Passing the boards

Aug. 15, 2013
I graduated from my dental hygiene program feeling very confident and well prepared – so why were my fingers going numb every time I started reading over the test instruction booklet?

By Scottie Chapman
August 22, 2013

I graduated from my dental hygiene program feeling very confident and well prepared. (See part I of my journal.) I felt I had the skills to perform well on the practical exam and in an office. So why were my fingers going numb every time I started reading over the test instruction booklet?

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I often found myself lying in bed, losing sleep over possible scenarios and questions – but this happens to everyone. We’ve put blood (mostly others’), sweat, and tears into our programs and the exam is, for most of us, the last thing standing between being a dental hygiene student and being a registered dental hygienist. Not being able to shut off our brains at night is understandable.

While I felt confident that I would pass, I also kept in mind that should I fail, for whatever reason, it would not be the end of the road. It would be a major inconvenience and very upsetting, but it would not be the end of my dream. This sometimes happens to good clinicians. We are dealing with the complexities of working on people, and we never really get to see all the cards before we must jump in and do our best.

The day of my exam I got up early, ate a large breakfast, and went to our testing site. Before the exam I felt mostly excited and a lot calmer than I expected. I did have one moment where a feeling of sheer panic came over me, but it went away quickly. I was ready to get this over with. The moment finally arrived where we were called into the building for our orientation, and we were off to start the test!

So you passed the boards and got a job as a dental hygienist. Now what?

I’d rather not recount my entire test experience, because that would be pretty boring. I will say that setting up as quickly as possible in an unfamiliar operatory was probably the most daunting task of the day, so if you are a student who has not yet taken your exam, you may want to practice unpacking your case as if you were setting up the operatory. Even though I had organized well, I wished I had practiced setting up. Other than that, I felt on target with everything else. My patient was accepted and, thankfully, the rest of the test was uneventful.

The scary part comes after the exam. Your brain starts going over every possible fail scenario. I think I lost more sleep over the test afterwards than before. At one point, I woke up in the middle of the night and gasped, thinking Am I sure my patient was even accepted? What if he wasn’t and I did the cleaning on him anyway?! Believe me, it got ridiculous during that waiting period.

Now, here is the most terrifying part of all. An envelope arrives at your door one day bearing your exam results. What’s inside?! you wonder. You know there are two possibilities for what the results will be, and if you’re like me, you’ll cry either way. Thankfully in my case, it was tears of joy. I did it! The end of this treacherous journey was finally over.

But, as you know, the end of one thing is the beginning of another. Now I have to find a job. Stay tuned!

Scottie Chapman received her A.S. in Dental Hygiene from Diablo Valley College in 2013. Dental hygiene is her second career after spending 18 years as a metal worker, working as a mythbuster and a high school metal shop teacher.