Dual-Degree Dental Hygiene Program Targets Graduates in the Sciences

Dentistry Today


The two-year University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) Clinical Dental Hygiene Leader (CDHL) program awards college graduates who already have a science background but who also want to delve specifically into healthcare both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

For example, Paige Christensen, who graduated in 2013 with a BS in animal sciences from Delaware Valley University and then became interested in dental hygiene after finding work as a dental assistant, is now a student.

Likewise, Phuong Hoang, who graduated in 2017 with a BS in biochemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, had grown up with three close relatives in dentistry is part of the program as well.

Nasrin Kolahdouzan, a mother of two young girls, earned a BS in biology in 2007 in Iran and saw the CDHL program as a faster way to be part of the healthcare community while seeing greater opportunities for job growth, job security, and a higher salary in the years ahead.

“This is a big dream for me,” said Kolahdouzan.

Carly Miller, who graduated from Mouth St. Mary’s University with a BS in health sciences in May 2020, had long aspired to be a nurse or occupational therapist before shifting her attention to dental hygiene after landing a job in a dental office and seeing the profession up close.

“What sets the CDHL program apart is that for prospects interested in making a career change, they can pivot fairly quickly without losing substantial time or income,” said Sheryl Syme, RDH, MS, associate professor and director of the program.

“Whereas a traditional path would take four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and another two for a master’s, the CDHL offers both in a third of the time. Because applicants come to the table with 57 credits in required science prerequisites, they are able to hit the ground running,” said Syme.

Interest was immediate, and more than four dozen prospects have attended one of three virtual open houses highlighting the second CDHL session to begin in June 2021, which will expand class size to six participants.

“It’s been a very competitive market,” said Syme, who did extensive research while developing the core CDHL curriculum and found none comparable, UMSOD said. “I called different colleges looking for guidance. They didn’t have anything similar and were excited about the prospect.”

The CDHL curriculum combines online and clinical dental hygiene instruction and includes graduate-level courses focused on research, interpreting scientific data, scholarly writing, and ethical decision-making, oriented toward healthcare professionals who want to work more hands-on with patients, perhaps, or become a thought leader or project manager.

“They’re a little bit of a different breed,” Syme said of CDHL students. “They’re mature. They already have a degree under their belt and are looking for ways to channel their energy into community health, for instance, or work with specialty populations or in a position where they can be more of a guiding force.”

Christensen, for one, felt more and more drawn to the public policy side of healthcare.

“Public policy affects us every day in ways we don’t even think about,” she said, “and it got me to thinking that this is a great way to move dentistry forward and advocate for the vital role a dental hygienist plays in overall and oral health.”

Hoang knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree. As a volunteer at a local Mission of Mercy event that provided free services to the underserved, the native of Silver Spring, Maryland, was inspired to increase oral health literacy among the general public.

“This program gives me the opportunity to do that,” said Hoang, who worked for three years as a dental assistant at Kanter Dental in Ellicott City, Maryland.

“When I started looking for a job in dental health, I was curious about what the field would look like for me. I wasn’t aware of how much I’d enjoy it until I did it. Getting to know people more intimately, that’s what I really enjoy,” Hoang said.

“Miller, meanwhile, had long aspired to go into healthcare. She just wasn’t sure exactly where.

“Growing up, I always had that mindset that I wanted to help others,” said the native of Howard County, Maryland.

When Miller heard about UMSOD’s master’s degree program, she said she liked its intensity as well as its flexibility.

“It offers so many opportunities, whether in the clinical setting or in research and administration,” said Miller. “I know it’s going to be a tough and rigorous program, but everyone has been helpful and I know I’m in a program where they’ll make sure I succeed.”

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