Purpose: Selecting dental hygiene students who ultimately will be successful in their formal education and board examinations is critical to dental hygiene education and the profession. This study examined prior dental assisting experience as a predictor of performance during dental hygiene education as well as on licensure examinations.
Methods: The study included all 132 female students who graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department of Dental Hygiene, from 1989 through 1993. The prior assisting group (n = 43) consisted of students with at least six months of dental assisting experience as reported by the student and/or previous dentist employers. The nonassisting group (n = 89) had no dental assisting experience prior to admission. Student records were used to compile evaluative data for each subject including: prerequisite college science grade-point average (GPA); dental hygiene GPA at the end of the first year of the program; dental hygiene GPA at the end of the second year; combined GPA for the three semesters of clinical dental hygiene coursework; quality points for specific dental hygiene courses including preclinical dental hygiene instrumentation, dental hygiene clinic I, dental anatomy, and dental materials; and National Board Dental Hygiene Examination Scores and performance on the Southern Regional Board Examination. Student's t-test analysis was used to compare the prerequisite college science GPA for the assisting and nonassisting groups. Multivariate analysis was used for all other measures of comparison.
Results: Student's t-test analysis revealed no significant differences in terms of the prerequisite college science GPA as a control for this extraneous variable. The results of multivariate analysis demonstrated that the prior dental assisting group had significantly higher cumulative clinic GPAs as well as clinic I quality points. No significant differences were noted in first-year GPA, cumulative program GPA, dental materials, preclinical dental hygiene instrumentation, dental anatomy quality points, and national and regional board performance.
Conclusions: Dental assisting experience was positively correlated with initial evaluation of clinical performance and with cumulative clinic GPA. This suggests that experience in the oral healthcare delivery system supports the students' clinical skill development. Because there were no significant differences observed on other performance measures, it can be concluded that prior dental assisting experience has a circumscribed predictive value relative to dental hygiene student performance.