Bulletin of Dental Education

Hybrid Program Targets Shortage of Allied Dental Professionals

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The shortage of allied dental professionals, specifically dental assistants, continues to affect the dental profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 44,000 openings for dental assistants are projected annually and job growth is estimated at 11% from 2020 to 2030, yet there are simply not enough trained and licensed individuals to fill the positions available.

Herzing University-Minneapolis saw the impact of this daily. To offset its statewide talent crisis, the university introduced the Dental Assisting Hybrid Track in 2019 and developed a hybrid course leading to a certificate of completion in dental radiology for those seeking the Limited Radiology Registration with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry.

While the challenge persists, the Dental Assisting Hybrid Track program’s first graduating class can fully leverage their new skills this fall. Because today’s talent crisis is too big to solve without everyone working together, other institutions should benefit from some of the lessons Herzing University-Minneapolis has learned so far.

1. People need flexible options in education.

Traditional programs require regular on-campus attendance, which can be severely limiting for full-time workers or people who cannot regularly commute to campus. Herzing University-Minneapolis’s program allows students from Minnesota and surrounding areas to perform the didactic portion online while labs are scheduled on campus over one or two weekends per month. By doing this, employers can retain their top talent while students continue their education.

2. Rural communities flourish when educational solutions come to them.

This innovative solution addresses the continuing demand for licensed dental assistants, particularly in rural Minnesota. The university’s goal was to create a program with enough flexibility to be a legitimate option across the state. It took support from community allies, such as the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and local employers, to start the program. But it led to interest from rural communities across the state, which was demonstrated by a class with enrollees from greater Minnesota, some as far away as the Iron Range close to the northern border of the state.

3. Hybrid programs work when credibility exists.

“Online” was once a four-letter word in health care education. That’s not the case in 2022. The combination of meeting accreditation standards, providing necessary access to skill-building in labs and technological delivery of content, allows online learning to become something students and employers demand.

By creating a hybrid program that offers students the same access to faculty, equipment and licensing exam prep, and is inclusive of all required resources, the university can remove most of the restrictive obstacles commonly and mistakenly associated with an online education. What’s left? A credible learning environment on par with any other in Minnesota.

4. Our workforce needs clear paths to career progression.

Herzing University-Minneapolis wants to provide all individuals, including any who may be working as an unlicensed dental assistant, with clear pathways to obtain dental assisting licensure and pursue other career options, like dental hygiene or health care administration.

Plenty of work went into developing a viable hybrid option for prospective dental assistants, but the results are real. If more employers and educators work together, similar programs across the country could make a big difference in keeping health care positions filled. This has been the university’s way forward, and it would love to work with other institutions on ways to address the same challenges in their communities.


Courtesy of Stephanie Kurkoski, Dental Assisting Program Chair, Herzing University-Minneapolis

Published on July 13, 2022

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