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Efforts to pass a legislative mandate that the Community College system offer 4-year programs failed last year. But the colleges have always had the option of starting 4-year programs to fill a niche in education with the governing board's approval. For instance, the Great Basin College for instance has four-year degrees for Integrated Applied Science and Management Technology. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on the first 4-year program at CCSN and its approval last week has some staff grinning.
PLASKON: Surgeon generals since the year 2000 have warned of a crisis and epidemic related to oral health in America. One sign of that epidemic according to CCSN Vice President of Academic Affairs Bob Palinchak is that 60 percent of elementary school children all across rural Nevada have dental problems. There are plenty of people trained to clean those mouths, but Palinchak says challenges like that for today's dental hygienists go beyond cleaning teeth.
PALINCHAK: No that would be too easy, no it might be how to serve 42 thousand square miles with a bus?
PLASKON: CCSN has a bus called Mile for Mile that travels around these 42 thousand miles addressing rural dentistry. Solving widespread issues like this is just one of the many new roles hygienists can fill. Today they can find cancers and tumors, manage pharmaceuticals, logistics and prevention. But CCSN couldn't train Nevada's hygienists because it only offered a 2-year dental hygiene certificate. Meanwhile the field of dental hygiene developed even broader dynamics: Medication, marketing, business, funding structures and acquisition for public agencies, managing large-scale operations, the ethics of surgery, ancient history and even the evolution of the mouth. CCSN didn't stand by idly. For more than a quarter century the faculty worked on a curriculum for the state's first Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. Palinchak pulls it out.
PALINCHAK: Here we go, the kinds of classes that we will have, reasoning and critical thinking. One will be dental anthropology. Your teeth are very different than my teeth, and some people have some very unusual formations, and growth and hidden teeth and some pop out and some don't pop out and so if you study the human condition back to Neanderthals you see patterns and learn about the place of teeth in the human body and that is changing over the years.
PLASKON: Another challenge medical professionals face are the ethics and costs. Palinchak says there's a proposed class on that too.
PALINCHAK: This country is very sensitive to the morality and ethical behavior of its professionals so it is everywhere and so in the dental field we hope we will be among the first to where we are going to look at professional ethics, what does it mean to be a dental hygienist, what does it mean to charge certain amounts for business, what does it mean to work with the government and Medicare it means you have to be straight laced, it means you gotta know your teeth.
PLASKON: Palinchak says CCSN shopped this curriculum to traditional universities in Nevada but they didn't have the facilities or staff to do it. But UNLV considered a Masters program in dental health and that would leave an education gap between the two-year dental hygiene program at CCSN and Master's program at UNLV. On Friday the Board of Regents recognized the need and approved filling that cavity by approving CCSN's curriculum for the 4-year Bachelor of Science degree in Dental Hygiene.
PALINCHAK: And now we are giving the next layer, the next layer is a professional dental hygienist.
PLASKON: Palinchak says CCSN's Bachelor of Science students will be on the cutting edge but he admits jobs for graduates of the program aren't well defined.
PALINCHAK: Well that's sort of tricky, because a lot of them are word of mouth.
PLASKON: In order to get into the program students must already be licensed hygienists - meaning they are in the field and will know the job prospects. Of 800 hygienists surveyed around the state by CCSN, half were interested in an advanced degree like this mainly so they can move up in their careers. Chair of CCSN's governing board of regents, Stavros Anthony, said this program signals an evolution of CCSN's role in serving Nevada's workforce.
ANTHONY: Things in society are getting more complicated, fields are getting more complicated and that means we need people who are more educated and that means we are getting into more of a situation where people need a four year degree in order to get into the workforce properly.
PLASKON: Board member Tom Kirkpatrick had a lot of questions. He was concerned it is too broad for CCSN. But he said the idea was put together very well and the board should be prepared to consider more four year programs at community colleges.
KIRKPATRICK: We are going to get requests for other programs at other community colleges across the state and we will have to be very careful to make sure that we only approve programs that are appropriate for that particular location.
PLASKON: CCSN anticipates the BS in Dental Hygiene will serve students all over the state and beyond. Classes will be available on the Internet and after completing the program they can teach dental hygiene anywhere in the nation, and for the first time Nevada will have produced its own professional dental hygienist capable of teaching here.