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Abstract

Purpose: As education and clinical preparation affect employment opportunities for entry-level dental hygienists, dentists’ perceptions of recent graduates should be considered when reforming education requirements. The purpose of this study is to examine general dentists’ preferences for employing entry-level dental hygienists from two-year versus four-year degree programs by surveying the opinions of dentists in Ohio. Method: A survey was distributed from June to September 2004, to a sample of 700 general dentists practicing in Ohio, all alumni of Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. The survey included questions on hiring preference, salary, value of work experience, and applicable science and dentistry knowledge. Results: Fifty-six percent of responding dentists (n=225) have no preference for hiring a recent four-year dental hygiene graduate over a recent two-year graduate. Furthermore, the majority of responding dentists are not willing to pay a higher salary to recent graduates of four-year degree programs, including those with a hygienist holding a baccalaureate degree. Responding dentists perceive greater science knowledge among recent four-year graduates, but equal knowledge of performing prophylaxis and patient care among graduates of both programs. Conclusion: Two-thirds of responding dentists believe differences between recent two-year and four-year dental hygiene graduates no longer exist after two years of work experience. Perceptions of the significant role of work experience in training suggest that future reforms in dental hygiene education should incorporate more clinical experience to advance the professional capabilities of entry-level hygienists.

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