by Faizan Malik
On November 8, the USC Ostrow School of Dentistry held a dental hygiene open house hosted by the USC Dental Hygiene Program. The dental hygiene program is now running on its eighty-fourth year thanks to what the program’s chair, Diane Melrose, described as the “USC Advantage.”
According to Melrose, USC is one of only three schools in California and 41 in the nation that offers a bachelor’s degree upon completion of the dental hygiene program. Melrose noted that the well-rounded education provided prepared the program’s 2000 and increasing graduates to pass state and national board exams, with 98% passing the national board and 95% passing state.
Melrose said that the high caliber of the program comes both from its esteemed faculty composed of 34 dental hygienists and 15 dentists and from Ostrow’s emphasis on research and innovation.
The USC Dental Hygiene Program’s mission is first and foremost to educate its students to become the best clinicians as well as educators, researchers, and advocates. It does this through a rigorous curriculum with five courses each trimester that consists of “student-centered learning” and community outreach, Melrose said. The program has its own mobile van that provided more than a thousand screenings in the past year.
Melrose emphasized that the most important factor of the USC Advantage is the campus life and networking.
“I’ve never seen such strong networking” she said. “We have USC dentists who only want hygienists from here.”
The program is meant primarily for USC undergraduate students who have completed two years of prerequisite coursework including, but not limited to, general biology, chemistry, writing 140, and the six general education requirements. However, non-USC students who have completed comparable coursework are free to apply upon completion of the USC transfer application.
All applicants must complete the Dental Hygiene application and send in official college transcripts by February 1. Letters of recommendation are not required but may be included.
One new facet of the program beginning this application cycle is the Dental Hygiene/Dentistry Pathway which culminates in both a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene as well as a DDS. An additional personal statement of interest is required for the new application.
However, although everyone who expresses interest in the DDS pathway and gets into the Dental Hygiene Program will receive a BS in Dental Hygiene upon completion of the requirements, only five to ten of these students will be offered the opportunity to pursue the DDS.
According to the Ostrow School of Dentistry, “The successful candidate for this 6-year pathway must demonstrate outstanding academic and personal qualities including maturity, integrity, compassion and motivation needed to become a highly skilled and caring health professional.”
Those five to ten students must fit these criteria, graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA, be recommended by the Program Director and two additional faculty members, and take the DAT with a score of at least 15 in all categories.
While this DDS pathway is a great opportunity and shortcut to dental school in terms of time, it is by no means an easy way in.
Still, the BS in Dental Hygiene alone is a powerful tool in today’s job market and can definitely help if applying to dental schools later, according to Melrose.
Alina Aalam, a graduate of the program and now a clinical Assistant Professor at the Ostrow School said, “the USC alumni are very supportive…career networking helped me get into Dental School.”
Kimi Morita graduated from the Dental Hygiene Program last year and is currently a 2014 DDS candidate at USC. She said, “the Dental Hygiene program taught me how to be a professional… you develop a good dental background and learn hand skills and instrumentation.”
Overall, a student in the Dental Hygiene Program can expect to see a lot of the same faculty, clinics, and some of the same rotations as the DDS students, Melrose said. Thus, the program can be a stepping stone for more advanced degrees such as a DDS, a Masters, or research and teaching positions.