Competencies for Dental Hygiene Graduates
A competency for Dental Hygiene Graduates identifies and organizes the knowledge, skills and attitudes our graduates must attain for entry into dental hygiene practice in all settings.
The value of these competencies is related to two areas. First, the competencies
define the core content of the curriculum. By stating publicly what graduates must know and be able to do after completing our program, we establish a basis for the content of all courses. The competencies set standards for identifying relevant content and provide guidance in making decisions related to our educational program. The degree to which our curriculum is relevant, complete, educationally sound, and well organized is a direct reflection of this document.
A second area in which competencies are useful is outcomes assessment. The quality of any curriculum must be judged by its results. By setting forth competencies that a student must demonstrate to qualify for graduation and entry into the profession, this document provides a basis for establishing measures to evaluate the degree to which a student has acquired and can demonstrate the competencies needed to care for individuals and promote the health of the public.
Competencies for Dental Hygiene Graduates should be viewed as dynamic standards that are responsive to any clear need for change. The competencies are intended to serve as a framework for the dental hygiene curriculum and require regular review and revision.
Competency as an Educational Concept
This document has been organized around the concept of "competencies." The term "competent" is defined as the level of special skill, knowledge and attitudes derived from training and experience. Competencies for dental hygiene graduates can be more specifically described by several basic characteristics. Competencies are a typical part of the practice of dental hygiene; a combination of knowledge, attitude, psychomotor skill, and/or communication skill; and performed at or above an acceptable level of defined standards.
The general organization of this document (and ultimately the curriculum) is structured from the general to the more specific. Three Domains have been identified:
Professionalism, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Patient/Client Care. These domains represent broad categories of professional activity and concern which occur in dental hygiene practice. By design, these categories are not related to specific courses within the Division of Dental Hygiene because course structure does not reflect the scope of a practicing dental hygienist. The concept of Domains is intended to encourage a structure and process in the curriculum that is interdisciplinary, coordinated and applicable to practice. In this document, Domains are numbered I-III.
Within each domain, Competencies are identified. A Competency is the ability to provide a particular, but complex, task or service. For example, ‘the dental hygienist must be able to systematically collect and accurately record baseline data on the general, oral and psychosocial health status of patients/clients using methods consistent with medicolegal principles.” The complexity of this service suggests that multiple and more specific abilities are required to enable the performance of a Competency. In this document, Competencies are numbered 1-10.
The more specific abilities could be considered subdivisions of Competencies and are termed Supporting Skills. An example of a Supporting Skill is: "Obtain, review and update a complete medical, family, psychological, and dental history." The acquisition and demonstration of a Competency require a level of mastery of all Supporting Skills related to that particular service or task. Similarly, Supporting Skills also require acquisition of more specific abilities, termed Foundational Abilities. In this document, Supporting Skills are numbered 1.1-10.4.
Foundational abilities are obtained through didactic and laboratory instruction that provide the information and experience needed for satisfactory mastery of Supporting Skills. Foundational ability encompasses knowledge, skill and attitudes. Foundational knowledge is the ability to use information and correctly answer specific questions when asked, for example, on an examination. Foundational technical skill is the ability to follow specific rules to produce acceptable results in standardized situations, for example, periodontal probing on a simulator. Foundational attitudes are positive intellectual and behavioral actions, such as addressing a patient's chief complaint prior to proceeding with the planned treatment.
The basic medical and dental sciences, behavioral sciences, and clinical sciences all provide instruction at the foundation level. Didactic, small group, seminar, laboratory and clinical instruction provide information and psychomotor experiences that enable students to acquire and demonstrate competence in clinical or other dental hygiene employment settings. The inclusion of any specific foundational ability in the curriculum should be based on its direct support of one or more of the Supporting Skills and Competencies. In general, course objectives are designed to provide Foundational Abilities. Therefore, Foundational Abilities are not listed in this document.
The worth and practicality of Competencies for Dental Hygiene Graduates depends on its acceptance and application by the faculty responsible for the educational programs of the Division of Dental Hygiene, Department of Periodontics, School of Dentistry, University of Maryland, Baltimore. These Competencies define a level of practice for the new graduate, rather than predict the higher level of practice that will be attained by dental hygiene practitioners over their career lifetime. This document is designed to direct and be responsive to the educational needs of our students. Ultimately, the true measure of the value of competencies will be the quality of our graduates and the health care they render to the public.