Monday, September 8, 2008

Dental assisting program offers hot job prospects

By February, after just nine months of class, Rio Salado College student April Hileman expects to be working in a new career as a dental assistant.

Pretty impressive in a state whose economy has taken a beating and careers with hot job prospects are as valuable as a cool breeze come mid-July in the Arizona desert.

Before tackling her new career, Hileman will spend 300 hours working with a licensed dentist and donating her time at the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), a dental clinic serving the homeless in downtown Phoenix.

Hileman isn’t the only student looking for a new career with excellent prospects. Enrollment in the only online dental assisting program in the country has doubled since the program received national accreditation from the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation last year.

One of only three accredited programs in the state, Rio Salado’s program received the maximum accreditation which is good for seven years.

For Hileman, the mother of two boys ages two and five, the online delivery of the course was a vital component of a program.

“I like the time factor you have to do it,” Hileman said. “I get up at four in the morning to do my class work and then the rest of the day I can still be a stay-at-home mom.”

The online program also allows students to work at their own paces.

“You can do it over and over again until you get it,” said Hileman as she practiced the correct technique for bitewings for dental x-rays. The program also provides free tutoring which Hileman took advantage of for a challenging section on radiology (x-rays).

As part of the course work students in the program receive a complete lab kit which includes all the dental materials they need to learn at home.

“The good thing is you have all these tools at your fingertips,” said Hileman.

Gaining the American Dental Association stamp of approval for the only online accredited program in the country wasn’t easy. The accreditation team spent hours assessing Rio Salado’s program.

“We were probably scrutinized at a higher degree,” Nicole Albo, Rio Salado dental assisting faculty chair said. “Since we were the first, the Commission wanted to make sure our online program more than met the standards of the accrediting body.”

The newly earned accreditation will allow students in the program to earn their associate degree along with a certificate in completion in dental assisting.

Students graduating from an accredited program traditionally have the capacity to earn more and the accreditation is recognized in 37 states. Many states won’t allow dental assistants to work unless they graduate from an accredited program and are certified.

Besides lots of job prospects starting wages for a dental assistant average between $10 and $12 an hour. The average wage for a certified dental assistant in Arizona is $17.50, Albo said.

Many of the credits required for the dental assisting program are prerequisites for Rio Salado’s dental hygiene program making the program the perfect pathway for advancing a career or education, Albo said.

Although class work is all online students complete an in-person internship and volunteer at CASS.

“Part of being a responsible citizen is serving the community and our program really instills that community service,” Albo said.

Initially created to serve students in rural areas who did not have the ability to travel to the Phoenix metro area to get an education, the program has students from around the state.

Students are enrolled who live in Douglas, Prescott, Tucson, The San Carlos Indian Reservation and other rural communities.

Classes for the Rio Salado dental assisting program start four times a year every August, October, January and April. Deadlines for applications are available on the Rio Salado web site at

Rio Salado College serves more than 60,000 students, more than 30,000 of which are online. One of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges, Rio Salado offers general education courses including English, math, science and history and also a variety of degrees and certificates. For course registration or more information about programs call 480-517-8540 or go to