The aim of this study was to identify the challenges encountered by dental assisting students, especially those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (UREG), that affected their achieving academic success. In 2016, directors of the nine northern California dental assisting programs were contacted via email to explain the study and request an opportunity to administer the 26-item survey to their currently enrolled students. Student responses were entered into a survey research program, which tabulated the data and calculated the frequency of responses to each item. All nine programs participated, and the overall student response rate was 98%. Most (71%) of the 215 respondents agreed that they had experienced challenges in achieving academic success. Respondents reported the following challenges that made it difficult to perform well at school: financial responsibilities (41%), family responsibilities (33%), and language challenges (21%). These challenges, as well as difficulty understanding the language and vocabulary of instructional materials and cost of tuition and supplies, were statistically related to respondents' perceptions of their challenges to academic success. Most (83%) of the respondents perceived that faculty members supported their academic success. One-third of the respondents were from UREG: Hispanic, African American, and Native American. Higher percentages of UREG than non-UREG participants worked more hours/week (p=0.03) and tended to perceive financial (52%/32%) and family (42%/28%) responsibilities as challenges. Since both UREG and non-UREG respondents experienced these challenges, all students should be informed of institutional and programmatic resources that can assist them in achieving academic success.
Keywords: allied dental education; allied health education; allied health occupations; dental assistant; dental assisting; minority groups.