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Dental hygiene course begins in Harlingen (4/7/97)

Texas State Technical College in Harlingen enrolled 16 students in March in the Rio Grande Valley's first degree program for dental hygienists.

The students are in a seven-quarter program that leads to an associate's degree in May 1998. An additional class of 16 will begin instruction in March 1998.

Funding for the program comes the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative, a special legislative project in health-care education. The instruction is part of a cooperative satellite program with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which offers accredited dental hygiene degrees up to the master's level.

"There is a tremendous need for dental hygienists and oral health educators in the Valley," said Nita Wallace, chair of the university's dental hygiene education department. She said the Lower Rio Grande Valley Dental Society was a leader in advocating the program.

In the Coastal Bend, clinic expansion was completed in March to accommodate 16 additional students in Bee County College's own dental hygiene program. The South Texas/Border Region initiative is underwriting the costs of expanding the instructional clinic by adding new dental operatories, and Bee County College is underwriting the instructional costs.

In Harlingen, the new dental hygiene program has three full-time faculty members. The program chair is Karen Schutzius, who previously was a dental hygienist with the U.S. Public Health Service. She worked clinically and on community oral health prevention program development with the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho. She has a master's degree in social gerontology, and taught at Sheridan (Wyo.) Community College and The University of Texas Health Science Center's dental hygiene department before joining the Public Health Service.

Enrollment was delayed until spring while an instructional clinic was built at the Harlingen campus. Funds came from the city of Harlingen and federal sources. Texas State Technical College bought the needed laboratory and clinical equipment from funding provided by the South Texas/Border Region initiative.

Dental hygienists can choose many career roles, including being a clinician, educator, research, manager or administrator. Once certified, hygienists may work in private dental offices, hospital and institutional clinics, nursing homes, corporate health facilities, schools, and a wide variety of other settings. Hygienists in the Rio Grande Valley are in demand and earn excellent salaries depending upon their experience and the number of hours they work per week, Wallace said.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570