As dental assistants, you are very special individuals who contribute significantly to the health and welfare of the patients you serve. As you are aware, it is necessary to continue your education as a lifelong learner and as a dental professional in order to stay current with new treatment techniques, materials, and protocols.
Although states require varying degrees of continuing education credits for credential renewal to assure best practices and protection of the public, assistants should be mindful of the many educational opportunities available through academic credit coursework toward advanced degrees. Many academic credit courses are available onsite and on the Internet to enhance personal and professional development, as well as future employment opportunities.
With the refinement of online coursework, opportunities to access academic programming have increased. In past years, barriers to advanced education included traveling to a location, hunting for parking, hiking to the classroom, attending classes in the evenings and weekends, and completing lengthy assignments in addition to the many responsibilities of work and home life. With the changing delivery of educational offerings, several of these barriers have been removed, facilitating matriculation into a variety of academic programs.
Although the rigors of coursework certainly remain, the opportunities for all to access education are significantly enhanced. Also, because funding for academic endeavors is an issue due to higher tuition costs, many grants, loans, and financial aids are available.
As dental professionals, we should be aware of the documented need for dental assistants in the academic environment as a viable career opportunity. As many dental assisting educators approach retirement, the pool of qualified candidates needed to staff dental assisting programs is projected to fall short of workforce demand. Therefore, in addition to corporate, industry, research, institutional, human resources, and vendor opportunities, a potential area of employment for dental assistants considering an alternative to the private practice setting is academia.
Dental assisting is a wonderful career within an allied health discipline for those who enjoy helping others, working with people, and sharing expertise in a highly regarded profession. However, dental assisting also affords many opportunities for career growth in a variety of alternative settings beyond the private practice. In order to find employment in one of the alternative workplaces, many positions require education beyond initial discipline–specific preparation.
The encouraging news is that thanks to the variety of methodologies through which education is now delivered, we have many more “workable” pathways through which to continue our professional continuing education and advanced academic coursework.
I believe it is safe to say that very few people, if any, will indicate that the path in pursuit of an advanced education is easy. However, not many things of value come easily.
Therefore, in order to build upon your skills as a dental assistant and to prepare for alternate employment settings, as well as personal growth and satisfaction, you have only to take advantage of the educational and potential career opportunities that await you.