At the Larimer Campus of FRCC, students interested in starting a new healthcare-focused career quickly without prior training can earn a certificate in Dental Assisting in as little as a year.
“It’s a rigorous program, but students who choose the accelerated option can finish in two semesters by taking 24 credits in the first semester, 22 in the second,” says Karen Ramos, director of the program. Some students opt for four semesters at a more part-time 11-12 credits per semester. In addition to the Dental Assisting certificate, students meet the number of hours and content the state requires to take x-rays for dental auxiliary.
Hands-on Practice at the Health Care Careers Center
One of the most compelling aspects of the Dental Assisting program is the opportunity students have to work with patients in the FRCC Dental Clinic, now housed in the brand-new, 61,000-square-foot Health Care Careers Center. The facility – called Grays Peak – opened in fall 2020.
Dental Assisting students get to practice their work in an educational lab that resembles a dental office, even treating FRCC students or residents of the Fort Collins area. “Our hope is to one day run this as a full-fledged dental clinic that makes FRCC students priority patients,” Ramos says. “We know there is a need for that, as students often don’t have dental insurance.”
Accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation
FRCC’s program is one of three programs in Colorado that is nationally accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dentistry Association. The process of ensuring the program is compliant with the commission’s standards is valuable always, but especially during COVID-19, says Ramos.
“CODA checks our facility regularly to ensure we’re best set up for student learning and monitors how we prepare dental assistants,” she says. “With dentistry considered a high-risk area, safety is a top priority in the FRCC Dental Assisting program. That has always been the case, but it’s top of our minds now more than ever.”
Clinical Hours Requirement
Students apply what they learn in two clinical internships—one per semester—in a dental office or clinical setting. Student Laci Knapp is starting at an oral surgery center in Fort Collins. She plans to do her two clinical externships (offsite) there as well, in hopes of getting hired on when she graduates in early 2021.
“I’ve always liked the idea of working in health care, and when I went to FRCC to explore some options, the Dental Assisting program was really appealing,” Knapp says. “The program has been positive all around, and I like the broad education of all different areas from general practice to oral surgery.” After gaining some experience, Laci says, she might return to school one day to become an oral surgeon herself.
Demand Higher Than Ever
Ramos says that FRCC is seeing increased demand for trained dental assistants.
“The pandemic has brought that on even more because dental assistants who are parents have had to leave to take care of their children and help them do remote school,” she says.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a strong outlook too, with a projected growth of 7 percent between 2019 and 2029. There are 354,600 dental assistant jobs in the United States. The profession has a median pay of $40,080. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment 2018 data, the average salary in Colorado is about the same: $40,392.
A Great First Career or Career Change
Many students choose the Dental Assisting program as a first career out of high school—an entry point to the dentistry profession or a reliable career on its own that one can begin quickly. But other people, like Nayshonda Grant, a spring 2020 graduate, come to FRCC seeking a career change.
Grant was an assistant manager at a country club in Colorado Springs, where she’d worked for 13 years, but was looking to try something “totally different.” A family member who is also a dental assistant encouraged her to check out FRCC, and she liked what she learned.
“The program does an incredible job preparing students for the dental field, and I receive compliments now about how well I was trained,” says Grant, who accepted a job at Spring Creek Dental in Fort Collins when she graduated in May 2020. She completed the program in four semesters. “FRCC was my first college experience and it was fantastic. I felt very prepared to do this job safely in today’s environment and gained excellent experience.”
Interested in the Dental Assisting program? Request information today. Students can start in fall or spring, so there’s plenty of time to get prepared to start this new adventure in January 2021!