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As I was hunting for dental assistant programs, I came across an accelerated option that gave me the flexibility I needed. I attended college and worked throughout the week; traditional programs conflicted with my existing busy schedule. The accelerated program held classes on the weekend and allowed me to dive into my career at a faster rate. During week one, I practiced hands-on skills during lab session. By week five, I began my job search as a dental assistant. Overall, the program was great, but there were some aspects that were not. Here’s what I loved (and didn’t love) about my fast-paced journey.
I love the field of dentistry and being able to make a positive impact on oral health. My accelerated program was 12 weeks and packed with comprehensive topics necessary to prepare students for real world dentistry. Choosing an accredited program gave me a professional advantage. My instructor was very knowledgeable; She has been a Registered Dental Assistant for over 20 years. I built my resume in class as a dental assistant in training. This was great because the school was eager to help with not only the educational aspects of assisting, but also with launching career placement early on.
Dental radiographs can be tricky to perfect when first learning placement in a patient’s mouth. These images can be time consuming to produce and require accurate representation of the patient’s tooth anatomy. It’s easy to assume your school of interest provides the newest and latest technology to practice with during labs, but this idea isn’t always the case. Dental procedures are generally the same from office to office, but some offices have more advanced (newer) equipment to work with, while others may have older equipment depending on what best fits the doctor’s needs. The school I attended held classes at a local dental office where we borrowed various equipment for labs. The program advertised “graduating with no debt,” which seemed great, but left me wondering what the catch was. The downside to this was having to use an older X-ray machine mounted on the wall. Have you heard that old saying, “You get what you pay for”? Well, this applies. The older machine was faulty, making it difficult to produce clear images. The X-ray machine’s performance issues left no time for setbacks; the practice and final exams were timed!
Dental assistants have a huge responsibility for infection control and sterilization. It’s safe to say that infection prevention practices are a major duty for dental assistants to monitor and carry out. It is our job as healthcare professionals to prevent the spread of diseases by following the recommendations of the CDC. The program covered a presentation of diseases, learning how these diseases spread, and proper sterilization techniques all in one class period. I believe this is a disadvantage because the amount of information was overwhelming. We learned quickly and testing followed the next class period.
As a college student, I had the option of financial aid assistance through FAFSA. This wasn’t an option for my accelerated dental assistant program. Because the program was 3 months in length, the school did not offer financial aid. Paying tuition in full was option one, option two was setting up a payment plan and paying an additional fee. If a student chose the payment plan option, balances needed to be paid in full before the program ended. The consequence for not completing payments resulted in the school withholding a student’s Certificate of Completion. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, many students enroll in educational programs and courses receive financial aid.
Externships are a great way to observe and practice hands-on skills. As a requirement to graduate from my program, externship completion was required to test skills in the dental office environment. I was really excited for this part of the program; The downside was having to choose an office in such little time. There are 10 dental specialties that are nationally recognized. Many doctors are searching for entry level assistants to complete externships and hire once the required hours are completed. So, it’s ideal to choose an office that specializes in your interests. Since the program was fast-paced, I didn’t have the opportunity to explore my assisting interests. I chose a general dentist office to complete my hours, but later realized I was intrigued with orthodontics practices and front office assisting.