Purpose: As the number of dental hygiene programs across the country continues to increase, educational opportunities for prospective students have flourished, resulting in increased competition among dental hygiene programs for qualified applicants. The purpose of this study was to provide a current description of dental hygiene students and applicants, assess the reasons for choosing the career, and evaluate the perceptions of both applicants and enrolled students with regard to specific aspects of the profession.
Methods: A questionnaire was mailed to 142 prospective dental hygiene students who met the minimal requirements for admission to either of the two dental hygiene programs in Arkansas. The prospective students had been invited for an admissions interview. The questionnaire also was administered during class to 80 students currently enrolled in one of the two programs.
Results: An overall response rate of 71% (n = 157) was achieved. The average respondent was 22 years old, female, and Caucasian with a grade point average of 3.5 and a composite ACT score of 23. Dental hygiene was also the first career choice and most respondents had prior dental assisting experience. Dental hygienists and dentists were reported as providing the most career guidance, while high school and college guidance counselors were least influential. Respondents chose the profession in order to work with and help people, have flexible work schedules, and receive good salaries. Respondents typically viewed dental hygiene as offering a bright future in terms of job security, good salaries, flexible work schedules, diverse career opportunities, and personal responsibility. No significant difference in overall perceptions of the profession was found between applicants and those enrolled in dental hygiene programs, although the strength of individual perceptions of the profession differed between applicant and first-year students compared to second-year students.
Conclusion: Dental hygiene programs can use the findings of this study to identify influential allies in guiding prospective students toward a career in dental hygiene. The results also can be used to design recruitment strategies that incorporate aspects of the profession found to motivate students in their career choice and shape their perceptions of the profession.