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MSDH Class of 2023: Walking through history

Published: July 24, 2023 by Kyle Rogers

The four-member Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Class of 2023 stand with program coordinator Harold A. Henson, RDH, PhD.
The four-member Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Class of 2023 stand with program coordinator Harold A. Henson, RDH, PhD. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Four trailblazing graduates walked the stage amongst the 183 honorees recognized during UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry’s 118th Commencement Ceremony in May. While each graduate marked the completion of a significant milestone, these four marked one for the School of Dentistry as the inaugural cohort to complete the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Program.

The four-member class, comprised of all School of Dentistry alumnae, consists of Elizabeth Alvarado, RDH, BSDH ’13, MSDH ’23; Desiree Hernandez, RDH, BSDH ’14, MSDH ’23; Courtney Routh, RDH, BSDH ’06, MSDH ’23; and Megan Williams, RDH, BSDH 21, MSDH ’23.

“Heartfelt congratulations to the pioneering students who have successfully completed their Master of Science in Dental Hygiene,” said Harold A. Henson, RDH, PhD, professor and coordinator of the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Program. “By investing their time and effort into this advanced level of education, they have proven themselves as trailblazers in the dental hygiene community. I eagerly anticipate the transformative impact they will have on the profession.”

Each graduate completed the MSDH curriculum — 33 semester credit hours of upper-level courses focusing on dental hygiene education. With nearly three-fourths of the program conducted online, all four members continued to work full time as dental hygienists throughout their studies.

The degree culminated in a capstone project, with the final candidate defense from the MSDH Class of 2023 successfully completed in July.

“It was very challenging being the first class,” said Williams, whose April defense marked the first-ever MSDH capstone project. “Though, it was enjoyable to work with our flexible professors, who were committed to incorporating our feedback for the program’s future classes.”

The MSDH degree broadens opportunities for a dental hygienist, allowing graduates to pursue careers in education at the university level or community college level, where they could potentially become program directors or deans, in addition to sales or oral health research opportunities.

Each of the four graduates expressed a desire to further their education as a reason for pursuing their MSDH.

“I knew my passion in dental hygiene ran further than the clinical setting, and I wanted to discover how I could give back to the field,” Hernandez said.

The American Dental Education Association reported that over 75% of dental hygiene educators were over age 40 in 2016, and more than half will be retirement age in five to 10 years, opening up new jobs for dental hygienists with master’s degrees.

While three of the graduates plan to continue working in a dental clinic, they see teaching dental hygiene in their future.

Routh is one graduate already putting her degree into action. She accepted an assistant professorship position within the School of Dentistry’s Department of Periodontics and Dental Hygiene, and began her faculty employment in February.

“I hold UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry in the highest esteem, and I’m so excited and grateful to have received my degrees from here and now be a part of this institution as an employee,” Routh said.

As the first MSDH class for the School of Dentistry, the milestone of this achievement isn’t lost on the group.

“Being the School of Dentistry’s inaugural MSDH class was exciting to be a part of,” Alvarado said. “This is a monumental time for dental hygienists, being able to broaden opportunities for our field.”

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