Increasing the knowledge base of its practitioners through formal education is vital to advancing the dental hygiene profession, ensuring practitioners' readiness for participation in future health care workforce models, and preparing future dental hygiene educators. The aim of this study was to discover the value of, barriers to, and motivations for graduate education among dental hygienists as a first step toward establishing ways to stimulate enrollment and facilitate program change. A qualitative pilot study design was used, with focus groups used for data collection. Four virtual focus groups were conducted on a video conferencing platform with dental hygienists (N=15) of varying educational levels residing in nine states. Focus group results were examined for emerging themes. The majority of participants placed a high value on graduate education as it related to expanding employment options and satisfying personal goals, but perceived it to have little value regarding advancement in clinical practice. Top barriers to education were reported to be time management, finances, and degree program options. Motivational themes for pursuing education included increased career options, benefits, and salary; personal satisfaction; potential to advance the profession; and financial support. The participants agreed that increased education can lead to more varied career opportunities and advance the profession, but their responses suggested limited motivation to pursue graduate studies. Determining ways to increase the value, reduce barriers, and enhance motivation for a graduate degree should be a priority of academic institutions and professional organizations involved in dental hygiene to ensure a workforce that is qualified for future health care initiatives and prepared to become educators.
Keywords: allied dental education; allied health personnel; dental hygiene; dental hygiene education; dental hygienist; graduate education; master’s degree.