Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

Dental Assisting Program Celebrates Final Graduation

On February 11, 2003, more than 400 guests in Saklad Auditorium cheered the achievements of the 80 men and women who represent the Dental Assisting Program’s final graduating class. After more than 30 years, NYU Dentistry’s dental assisting certificate program has closed its doors as a result of cutbacks in government support, changing trends in health care employment opportunities, and the growth of inexpensive community college programs in dental assisting.

According to Judith L. Cleary, a Clinical Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene and the program’s Director since 1980, “In the program’s early years, before the elimination of gender barriers—and a public becoming accustomed to the presence of women in all spheres of activity— the majority of Dental Assisting students were women seeking careers in one of the few health professions which actively welcomed them at the time. Later, after the explosion in career opportunities for women in the late 1970s, that demographic declined and the program began to target primarily people on public assistance and in government-sponsored education programs for New Americans. Because the program could be completed in under a year and required only a high school diploma or GED, it proved very attractive to people who were eager to improve their status by learning a marketable skill that would lead to steady employment in a professional setting, and in a relatively short period of time. Indeed, some graduates went on to pursue higher education opportunities, including dental hygiene and D.D.S. programs.”

In recent years, however, dramatic reductions in government aid and new regulations requiring public assistance recipients to work 20 hours a week combined to discourage many potential applicants from entering the program. As a result, from a high of 120 students per class in the 1970s and 1980s, the numbers dropped to as low as 80 per class in the late 1990s, with a consequent drain on the College’s budget. Reluctantly, NYU Dentistry was forced to make the decision to terminate the program. Happily, however, all program faculty and staff have been offered new positions at the College.

“The Dental Assisting Program’s spirit of personal advancement through education lives on,” said Dean Alfano. “We at NYU Dentistry owe a debt of gratitude to all dental assisting faculty through the years, but in particular to Professor Cleary. Judy Cleary is an outstanding leader, a tireless recruiter, and an exemplary role model for the thousands of young people who entered the dental assisting profession over these many years.”