PBSC Dental Hygiene grads take first manikin exam for state licensure
Palm Beach State College’s graduating Dental Hygiene students were set to take their state licensure exams this spring when COVID-19 prevented them from performing the one exam that requires treating a live patient. Otherwise ready to start their careers, no license meant no job.
But with perseverance and an emergency order from the Florida Department of Health, the students took the clinical exam on Aug. 5—using a computerized manikin to simulate a patient.
Indeed, COVID-19 brought about the first use of manikins in dental hygiene licensure exams in Florida and across the nation. When the pandemic interrupted dental hygiene classes in March, graduating classes began letter-writing campaigns to their state dentistry boards and governor’s offices asking to either waive regulatory statutes requiring a live exam or allow use of a manikin. On May 28, based on the COVID-19 state of emergency declared by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, M.D., issued an executive order to allow manikins for this purpose until Sept. 1, 2020.
With unintended foresight, the test administrator—the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments—had been working with Acadental, a dental education products manufacturer, on a manikin-based option for use in the Patient Clinical Treatment Exam, and in response to the COVID-19 crisis, they accelerated their efforts dramatically.
Now of the 44 states that use the tests administered by CDCA, 24 have chosen to use the manikins. Palm Beach State College is one of only five CDCA testing sites in Florida, out of 18 dental hygiene schools, and one of the first in the state to use the manikin exam. In the exam, each student is given a unique set of teeth that snaps into the manikin head. Each set is programmed to evaluate students on their clinical and judgment skills. Every movement is digitally captured, as the students detect and remove simulated dental calculus (tartar), measure periodontal pocket depth and assess tissue, among a range of components in the two-hour test.
The approval for this alternative exam enables students to move ahead with their careers, but also addresses an urgent public need. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 59 million people in the U.S. live in 6,296 areas with a shortage of dental health professionals, including 257 shortage areas in Florida. And COVID-19 promises to exacerbate the problem.
Judy McCauley, RDH, chair of PBSC’s Dental Hygiene program, confirms an even greater demand for her graduates due to COVID-19. “Experienced or older hygienists don’t want to go back—they don’t want to take the risk—and then you have the younger ones that have children who can’t go back because of the schooling situation, so there are a lot of job opportunities right now, and in that respect, our students are very fortunate.”
The Dental Hygiene program opened again on July 13 to allow students to restart their hands-on studies in the College’s Dental Hygiene Care Center, based on the Lake Worth campus. There are normally 24 chairs, but now only 12 are used in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This teaching facility has also started seeing patients from the community again, not only in accordance with CDC, OSHA and American Dental Hygienists’ Association guidelines, but also with strict rules of their own. Currently, out of an abundance of caution, they do only the basics and are avoiding higher risk procedures, such as those that use aerosols. Also, in addition to daily health screenings of the students, faculty and patients, they are only treating healthy adults with no underlying medical conditions.
“We are being very conservative in who we treat at this time, exceeding CDC guidelines.” McCauley said. “Yet even though this is a rather high-risk health profession, the same as dentistry, medical and nursing, we still had 140 completed applicants for the 24 spots in our incoming class. It is a profession that has a lot to offer, and students want to pursue it.”