Dimensions Brand Ambassador Kaitlin Stallard, a dental assistant, provides an inside look at how her dental hygiene program has changed since the global pandemic
I knew dental hygiene school was going to be tough, but I didn’t think I would end up going during the middle of a pandemic. I am in my second year, but I don’t feel like a typical second-year dental hygiene student. My peers and I missed 6 weeks of clinic last spring and did not go back this summer for our summer labs. Now we are back for the fall semester, but things could not be more different.
BACK TO SCHOOL
On our first day back, the parking lot was almost empty, which was much different than my first day last year. Usually, I can’t find parking but now I can park wherever I want. When you enter the building, you have to do a COVID-19 screening assessment and you must wear a mask. The building is bare, there’s hardly anyone on-site, including teachers and students. We all head right to the clinic and get the run-down of how this year will go due to the pandemic. Our teachers were genuinely excited to see us, and we were excited to see them after a long 6 months apart. They explained we will be doing all of our summer lab work (including injections, yay!) in the first 4 weeks of clinic, and then we will see patients (no ultrasonic, boo!). Of course, questions flooded in at this point, “Will we graduate on time?” “What happens if we get shut down again?” and “What happens if we get COVID or are exposed?” Unfortunately, our teachers were unsure of our fate. Normally, you can’t miss more than a couple of weeks of clinic but these times are so different, no one knows exactly what to do.
Although we were back in clinic like “normal,” things were far from that. Our cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) went up drastically due to the pandemic and added PPE we had to wear. Our new clinic attire consists of gown, mask, gloves, eyewear, scrub cap, and face shield. We must wear masks at all times in clinic, we cannot use ultrasonic scalers and fans are not allowed. When we start seeing patients, they will also be required to wear masks while in the clinic, we will perform a COVID-19 assessment and their temperature before beginning treatment.
I’m going to be honest I am nervous and excited to start seeing patients again. We are not where the “normal” second-year students are supposed to be at this point due to missing the bulk of clinic last spring. But I am still excited to get back in the swing of clinic and hopefully it will bring some normalcy.
All of our lectures are online except one. Our oral pathology class meets every other week in person. Our teachers have been fabulous during this transition with going fully online. They all record lectures for us to watch like we are watching in person. All of our tests are proctored through an online proctoring service so we can still take them at home. I will admit, fully online is more difficult than going to class. This is an added challenge I didn’t think would affect me so much. Our classes are considerably more time consuming while completing them all at home and we also have more at-home learning activities.
Even after all these hardships, I wouldn’t change my career path for the world. I love dental hygiene and our teachers have been extremely supportive during these difficult times. It is also reassuring that I am going through this with 19 other classmates and we are not alone.