For students looking to move into a career, the dental assisting program at Eastern Arizona College’s Gila Pueblo Campus offers a way ahead. “As a dental assistant, there are so many different career paths you can take,” said instructor Tanya Stapleton. Graduates of EAC’s two-semester certificate program can go on to such specialties as orthodontic, pediatric or oral surgery; become a lab tech, making retainers or dentures; go on to dental hygiene school; and even, with enough experience, manage a dental office.
“Dental assistants are cross-trained members of the dental team,” Stapleton said. “They’re there to support the dentist, make his job easier and provide more efficient care to the patient.” Students who finish the program will earn a Certificate of Proficiency from the college, which prepares them to take the national certification test through the Dental Assisting National Board. Arizona law requires dental assistants to be nationally certified in order to take X-rays. But they don’t have to wait for graduation to take the test; Stapleton helps many students set it up before then.
She said that for a tuition rate of $1,350 a semester with the cost of books, graduates could move into dental assistant positions that average $15-$18 per hour locally and $18.59 in Arizona. “Right out of school you can be making anywhere from $25,000 to $32,000 a year, and you’re only taking two semesters of classes at a community college.”
In addition, financial aid can bring tuition costs down considerably. Stapleton said many dental assisting students in the area receive the full tuition rate from Pell Grants, paying nothing out of pocket. Scholarships are also available through the Pinal Mountain Foundation for Higher Education.
The program also includes externship hours, giving students at least 200 hours of hands-on experience in dental offices. “Not only are they graduating with the knowledge, but they’re graduating with experience – and so they’re more likely to be hired at a higher wage,” Stapleton said. “We do a lot of community outreach within the program, so the students are able to make professional contacts that way,” she added.
If you are interested in the dental assisting program at Eastern Arizona College Gila Pueblo Campus, contact the Administration Office at (928) 425-8481 for more information. Fall semester begins Aug. 23, 2021. EAC offers a 55+ tuition waiver. Register today!