Dental Hygiene Has a Streak of an Overall 100% Passing Rate

Student Damian Trujillo works on his patient at Southwestern College’s Higher Education Center at National City clinic.

Since the inception of the Southwestern College Dental Hygiene Program, graduates have had stellar outcomes on the written and clinical licensing exams, and this year the streak continued with 100 percent passing.

Southwestern College students perform well above the national average and that success can be attributed to three things, said Dean Chris Perri.

“Our program is so successful because of the dedicated faculty, our passion for our strong curriculum, and our focused students,” Perri said.

Before becoming the dean of the Higher Education Center at National City, where the dental hygiene program is housed, Perri was the dental hygiene director. When she came on board in 2000 as director of the program, she saw that the dental hygiene students were not doing well on their clinical board exam.

The faculty were very dedicated to the program and their students were just as focused, but something was missing. They needed to streamline the process from curriculum to exams, Perri said.

That year, Perri and faculty changed the program significantly by implementing curriculum summits that are held every year before the beginning of the new term. The summits focused on student outcomes. They pinpointed what teaching methods or key points in curriculum could be strengthened or changed to improve students’ performance on the board exam. Additionally, curriculum content and its placement within the two-year program was re-evaluated, as well as assessment and comparison of program’s scores with other dental hygiene schools.

When the events of 9/11 occurred, Southwestern College dental hygiene students lost access to the local naval base where they had been completing their clinical requirements and gaining hands-on experience. All of a sudden, the faculty was tasked to find and fund a new facility in which students could learn.

Perri and her dedicated staff contacted product representatives to provide supplies for a “mini clinic” they made by tearing down the walls between a nursing office, janitors’ closet and bookstore. The San Diego Dental Society and many private dental offices also greatly assisted with funding.

As the years have progressed, the program’s reputation for academic excellence and preparation have created a demand greater than the program’s ability to serve. The program receives more than 100 applicants each year for 36 openings. Successful applicants have already completed two years of prerequisites, and once enrolled in the two-year program they will complete 1,600 hours of clinicals and 53 units before sitting for the national exams in their senior year.

It is all worth it, said current student Damian Trujillo.

“This program is great in all aspects,” Trujillo said. “You meet the best professors, the best classmates and the best clinical staff. The staff and the professors create a positive environment for their students and they are the reason why this program is so successful. They prepare their students for a future as dental hygienists.

“This program helped me see that dental hygiene is not only about cleaning teeth, but it made me realize that I can help people with their overall health,” he said.