By Faith Boyum
2021 may be a new year, but in-person classes such those from the dental hygiene program continue to follow modifications in order to comply with COVID safety measures.
So far, the modifications seem to be working, although, Jenna Montonye, a student in the dental program said that these changes in the beginning of last year during the lockdown made things a little complicated.
“It was nerve wracking, at first, since we had no clue how we were going to proceed,” said Montonye.
However, she found that the lecture portion of coursework went fine, even though they were not able to practice their clinical skills by working with patients right away. Starting in August of last year, dental students were able to begin working with patients, which helped make up for what they missed due to to the lockdown.
Breana Luschen, a former dental assistant and another current student in the dental hygiene program, noted some of the differences in how classes and clinical experiences are held. Right now, most classes are hybrid, while labs and clinical experience continue to be in-person. For labs and clinical experiences, students meet in larger spaces and in smaller numbers to comply with COVID safety rules. They also wear PPE such as hairnets, shields and N95 masks. In-person courses have been scheduled in such a way as to use resources like PPE efficiently.
Luschen said that some of what makes things more challenging is the time element. It takes more time to set up equipment, and there are more items in the room. Students need to wear PPE, which is composed of multiple items, and they screen all patients before examining them.
Though training in the program continues, the pandemic did affect some student’s ability to take their licensure exams.
“The pandemic did affect the class of 2020 by postponing their licensure exams that normally would have taken place beginning after spring break and right before graduation,” said Cherie Fritz, an instructor in the dental program.
However, these students were able to take the written exam by late May, and they were able to take the practical exam in late July. Students from the class of 2021, on the other hand, are currently on track to take their licensure exams without delays.
Luschen and Montonye, who are both on track to graduate in May 2021, have liked the program. While Luschen was inspired to pursue further training because she wanted to be able to educate both children and adults in taking care of their teeth, Montonye was originally on a path toward nursing until she discovered dental hygiene, which she decided was a better fit.
“I have recommended other people look into the [dental hygiene] program.” Luschen said.
Though the pandemic may caused a lot of changes, Montonye attributes her positive experience in the program to the help her instructors.
“I want to note that our teachers and clinical staff are what got us back on our feet once we reopened. They worked hard to adapt our program with all the new restrictions and were absolutely amazing about having us all on track and ready for our second year. I am grateful that we had such a supportive group leading us during these crazy times,” said Montonye.