The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Department of Dental Hygiene celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first graduating class at the annual Alumni Day Continuing Education Course on April 4. The Dental Hygiene Alumnus of the Year was honored and significant changes in the schools’ program and in the profession were noted since the class of 1978 crossed the stage.
Rose Gutierrez, a 1987 graduate, adjunct clinical professor and longtime leader in the dental hygiene profession, was honored as the Alumnus of the Year. She is frequently praised by her students for her teaching techniques and has held many local and statewide leadership positions, including serving as president of the Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association.
In his nomination letter, Chris Johnson, M.S., R.D.H., clinical assistant professor, noted: “Rose has demonstrated an excellence in clinical teaching that is of a seasoned professional. She currently works with the UT Health Science Center dental hygiene students who rotate through Rhoades Dental Clinic at Fort Sam Houston. Her teaching style not only communicates knowledge to students, but also develops in them the desire and skills necessary to continue lifelong learning. Rose is an excellent teacher as evidenced by the many laudatory comments she consistently receives on evaluations from senior dental hygiene students.”
Nita Wallace, Ph.D., R.D.H., associate professor and chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene, said, “Rose has done a great job providing a good clinical education for our students. She also has set a terrific example for our students to become leaders and mentors in the profession, as she has done for more than 20 years in the local and state organizations of the Dental Hygiene Society. We are pleased to be able to honor Rose and to encourage our alumni to stay connected to the Health Science Center as clinical educators, mentors, community leaders and oral health care providers.”
Evolution of the dental hygiene profession
Wallace noted that there have been major changes in the profession over the past 30 years, since the department began offering a certificate in dental hygiene through a two-year program. In 1995, the department established a B.S. completion program for those who had earned the certificate, instituted a master’s degree program in dental hygiene in 1996, initiated a Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene in 1997 and phased out the two-year certificate in 2006.
“We did this in order to offer advanced education to our graduates and graduates from other schools, as well as broaden their career opportunities,” she said. “With a bachelor’s degree, many of our graduates continue to work in dental offices, but their roles have changed. They still provide excellent dental hygiene care and education to patients, but they also function as community advocates for good oral health.
Oral health affects the entire body
“Research over the past 10 years has shown that the condition of the mouth affects a person’s overall health,” Wallace continued. “Poor oral health has been associated with heart disease, diabetes and many other health issues. In fact, one of our master’s degree students is studying the role of poor oral health in aspiration pneumonia, where food particles are breathed into the lungs and cause pneumonia. This is especially important for the growing number of patients in nursing homes.”
More career opportunities
Wallace also noted another major change in the profession: “There are many more career options for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. For example, some of our graduates choose to go into public health, business, oral health education for private companies or education.”
One graduate who has had a diverse career in dental hygiene is 1978 Class President Laura Lopez Stinson. “First I worked in a dental office, then I spent 15 years in dental sales. I taught for awhile, then I wanted to slow things down a bit. Now I’m working part time for Dental Health Arlington, a not-for-profit public health dental clinic, placing sealants on second- and third-graders in underprivileged schools,” she said. Stinson was honored as Alumnus of the Year in 2006.
Service and mentorship improve the profession
Gutierrez, the alumnus honoree, noted that student and professional success can be taken to a higher level through service and mentorship. In her acceptance speech, Garza challenged alumni, faculty members, students and guests to accept the challenge. “Some people feel uncomfortable taking on a leadership role,” Gutierrez said. “ I think that sometimes we need that ‘push’ or ‘nudge’ from someone because we think that we do not have the time or skills.”
Mentors, she said, can encourage people to realize their full potential. She thanked Jan Smith, an active leader in the Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association, for being her mentor for 20 years. “Someone once told me that it takes only 30 seconds to make a wrong decision in life. I would like to change that to say that it only takes 30 minutes to make an impact in someone’s life by mentoring them to become a leader, not just for the profession of dental hygiene, but a leader in life to wherever your road leads you.”