Prairie State College received a $100,000 grant through the Illinois Community College Board for a new dental assistant certificate program geared toward high school students.
PSC is calling it “Pathway to a Bright New Smile” offered through its Allied Health & Emergency Services Department.
The first group of 15 students enrolled in the three-semester program will be from District 227, which serves Rich Township High Schools. They will take college general education courses, in addition to the dental assistant course. Biology instruction will be part of the course.
Megan Hughes, interim dean of the department, said the program is likely to be offered in the future to Homewood-Flossmoor District 233 and other high school districts served by PSC.
The students will come to campus one day a week and follow the rest of the program online. The program also offers study skills workshops and South Suburban Dental Society will provide mentors and job shadowing.
“We’re creating a model pathway that other schools can then use. We’ll share all our data and information once we have the model,” Hughes said. “We want a program that’s sustainable and transferable.”
The community college has had a dental hygiene program for more than 50 years. Today students work out of a Health Tech Building on the PSC campus in Chicago Heights seeing patients by appointment for teeth cleaning, radiographs, pit and fissure sealant and bleaching. Adjunct faculty members who are practicing dental hygienists, as well as a dentist, supervise all instruction.
Hughes said the intention behind this new program is to help diversify the profession, noting jobs in this field are available now. She also sees it as a pathway into the PSC dental hygiene program because it will offer automatic enrollment from the certificate program.
“The dental assistant works alongside the dentist, whereas, the dental hygienist works independently under the supervision of the dentist,” Hughes explained. “The dental assistant assists the dentist during patient procedures such as fillings, crowns, extractions and other surgical procedures. The dental assistant can take impressions, radiographs and provide home care instructions.”