Graduation Neilson

My heart goes out to you: Experiences and emotions of a future 2020 graduate

April 22, 2020
COVID-19 has impacted clinics, boards, classes, and graduations. Rebecca Neilson, BS, calls for kindness and compassion when dealing with students whose lives have been altered due to the pandemic.

 I am one of the hundreds of dental hygiene students who are part of the graduating class of 2020. Many experienced dental hygienists are curious about how dental hygiene students and programs are navigating this pandemic. My purpose is to share how COVID-19 has impacted clinics, boards, classes, and graduation. I will also share some of the emotions and concerns that are associated with these changes. These events are specific to my program and cohort, but I imagine have only slight variations when compared to other dental hygiene programs nationwide. Additionally, the emotions I share are my own but are probably shared among many of the dental hygiene graduating class.

Before continuing, my request to readers is to stop viewing others’ challenges through the lenses of comparison. The challenges that this pandemic has brought to my life could be considered small in comparison to many. However, that does not negate their importance to or impact on me. May we all exercise caution in how we react to those who are sharing their emotions, worries, and stresses in hopes of simply just being listened to and loved. 


We did not know it at the time, but my cohorts’ last day of clinic was before spring break. There were rumblings that the clinic could be shut down, but we did not anticipate that it would happen so soon. The faculty were not allowed to communicate with us without receiving prior approval from the university, so we felt left in the dark. We worried that we would have to return in a future semester to complete our clinic requirements. Finally, we got word that we had sufficient hours and had met the qualifications necessary to be able to graduate without needing to return to finish our clinical course. Many other cohorts around the country will need to return to complete their clinical hours. To those students, my heart goes out to you.


My NBDHE exam was scheduled for the morning of March 17. Most of my peers had also scheduled the exam for that day. Unfortunately, when my alarm rang the morning of the exam, I saw that a cancellation email had come. The time stamp was 3:58 AM. I left the hotel and cried the whole two-hour drive home. I knew why the test needed to be cancelled, but I was let down. Hours of studying, practice questions, and mock boards had prepared me for this exam, and I was ready. And then, all at once, the rug was pulled out from under me. My motivation was gone. The idea of having to emotionally reprepare for that exam on some unknown future date is still overwhelming. To those students who have to reprepare emotionally for that exam, my heart goes out to you.

Details regarding our clinical boards are still unclear. Most of my cohort had already found clinical board patients and had located the qualifying sites for the CDCA examination. There is a movement to have the clinical examination waived. Many student hygienists are grateful for the endorsement of the ADHA in helping provide an avenue to assist them in this effort. There are many valid arguments on both sides of the matter, and soon there will be clarification on this issue. No matter what, I can rest assured knowing that I am prepared with a patient, the sites, and the skills necessary to take the clinical exam and pass. To the students who have not yet found a patient, my heart goes out to you.


Like other universities nationwide, our classes were moved entirely online. It has been challenging at times to remain focused on the subject material because the computer screen is not as engaging as a class discussion. Fortunately, my classmates and I still interact via group video chats, texting, and email. Online coursework requires a surprising amount of focus and discipline. It also feels exceptionally lonely. We acknowledge that our faculty have been working diligently to prepare coursework for us. They, like us, were not prepared for the changes this pandemic would bring to academia. Thank you to those faculty. And to those students who are struggling through online classes, my heart goes out to you. 


Most college seniors look forward to the day when they can triumphantly walk across the stage in their caps and gowns to receive their degrees. Unfortunately, this year it is postponed to an unknown future date. Our last semester suddenly feels anticlimactic. Flights have been cancelled, and many students have gone home and are wondering how (or if) they should celebrate. To those students, my heart goes out to you. 


My purpose in sharing this information is to inform readers about the impact that COVID-19 has had on dental hygiene programs and their graduating seniors nationwide. Hopefully, it answers some of your questions. I ask that all who read this article exercise kindness and compassion online if you see a post from a graduating senior. We are not trying to whine. So, if you are unsure of what to say, please consider the phrase: “My heart goes out to you.”

Rebecca “Becca” Neilson, BS, grew up in Provo, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2014 with a BS in biology. She is happily married and lives in Elkhart, Indiana. Becca’s longtime hobby is arranging flowers and she currently works as a florist. She is excited to graduate and receive her licensure in May of 2020. She thrives on interpersonal relationships and finds satisfaction in helping others learn. You can reach her at [email protected].