Bulletin of Dental Education

Inaugural Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Class of 2023: Walking Through History

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Four trailblazing graduates walked the stage amongst the 183 honorees recognized during UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry’s (UTHealth Houston SOD’s) 118th Commencement Ceremony in May. While each graduate marked the completion of a significant milestone, these four marked one for the School of Dentistry as the inaugural cohort to complete the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (MSDH) Program.

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The four-member Master of Science in Dental Hygiene, Class of 2023, stand with Program Coordinator Harold A. Henson, RDH, PhD. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

The four-member class, comprised of all school of dentistry alumnae, consists of Elizabeth Alvarado, RDH, B.S.D.H. (Class of 2013), M.S.D.H. (Class of 2023); Desiree Hernandez, RDH, B.S.D.H. (Class of 2014), M.S.D.H. (Class of 2023); Courtney Routh, RDH, B.S.D.H. (Class of 2006), M.S.D.H. (Class of 2023); and Megan Williams, RDH, B.S.D.H. (Class of 2021), M.S.D.H. (Class of 2023).

“Heartfelt congratulations to the pioneering students who have successfully completed their Master of Science in Dental Hygiene,” said Harold A. Henson, RDH, Ph.D., Professor and Coordinator of the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Program. “By investing their time and effort into this advanced level of education, they have proven themselves as trailblazers in the dental hygiene community. I eagerly anticipate the transformative impact they will have on the profession.”

Each graduate completed the M.S.D.H. curriculum. This includes 33 semester credit hours of upper-level courses focusing on dental hygiene education. With nearly three-fourths of the program conducted online, all four members continued to work full time as dental hygienists throughout their studies.

The degree culminated in a capstone project, with the final candidate defense from the M.S.D.H. Class of 2023 successfully completed in July.

“It was very challenging being the first class,” said Ms. Williams, whose April defense marked the first-ever M.S.D.H. Capstone Project. “Though, it was enjoyable to work with our flexible professors, who were committed to incorporating our feedback for the program’s future classes.”

The M.S.D.H. degree broadens opportunities for a dental hygienist, allowing graduates to pursue careers in education at the university level or community college level, where they could potentially become program directors or deans, in addition to sales or oral health research opportunities.

Each of the four graduates expressed a desire to further their education as a reason for pursuing their M.S.D.H.

“I knew my passion in dental hygiene ran further than the clinical setting, and I wanted to discover how I could give back to the field,” said Ms. Hernandez.

ADEA reported that over 75% of dental hygiene educators were over age 40 in 2016, and more than half will be retirement age in five to 10 years, opening up new jobs for dental hygienists with master’s degrees.

While three of the graduates plan to continue working in a dental clinic, they see teaching dental hygiene in their future.

Ms. Routh is one graduate who is already putting her degree into action. She accepted an assistant professorship position within UTHealth Houston SOD’s Department of Periodontics and Dental Hygiene and began her faculty employment in February.

“I hold UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry in the highest esteem, and I’m so excited and grateful to have received my degrees from here and now be a part of this institution as an employee,” Ms. Routh said.

As the first M.S.D.H. class for the School of Dentistry, the milestone of this achievement isn’t lost on the group.

“Being the School of Dentistry’s inaugural M.S.D.H. class was exciting to be a part of,” said Ms. Alvarado. “This is a monumental time for dental hygienists, being able to broaden opportunities for our field.”

Courtesy of UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry

Published on October 11, 2023

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