International Partners in Health
International Dental Hygiene Exchange Program
Expands Global Impact

By Cheryl M. Westphal, RDH, MS
Assistant Dean for Allied Health Programs,
Clinical Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene,
and Director of the Dental Hygiene Program,
NYU College of Dentistry

In 2003, the NYU College of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Program entered into a partnership with three European dental hygiene programs to enable Associate in Applied Science degree students at NYU to trade places for one semester with students in equivalent degree programs abroad. The program is conducted in partnership with Hogeschool INHOLLAND University of Applied Sciences Dental Hygiene Program in Amsterdam; Instituto Superior de Saude do Alto Ave (ISAVE) in Braga, Portugal; and the School of Oral Health Care, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

I agree with my colleague, Ron J. M. Knevel, Hogeschool INHOLLAND’s International Dental Hygiene Program Coordinator, that “the biggest benefit for students involved in any exchange program is the chance to experience and see their future profession from a different perspective.” Indeed, students are accustomed to working with certain protocols and in specific conditions, and when they are in a different country they have to learn to be flexible and to adapt to new situations.

For example, European dental hygiene students do not usually train alongside dental students, but when they come to NYU they have to learn to work as a team with future dentists. Pairing dental hygiene students and dental students in the clinical setting provides an opportunity for dental hygiene students to actively participate in the creation of patient treatment plans and gives dental students a clearer understanding of a dental hygienist’s preventive care responsibilities. Every visiting dental hygiene student is assigned to a patient care team to provide prophylaxis, periodontal care, and tooth whitening.

In addition to training with dental students, visiting dental hygiene students have the opportunity to provide periodontal care for implant patients and preventive care for elderly and medically compromised patients in community health centers and hospitals. The majority of European dental hygiene programs do not offer implant maintenance experience, and outreach to elderly and medically compromised populations in Europe is usually limited to oral hygiene instruction and demonstration.

Our European partner institutions also send faculty to NYU to tour our patient treatment areas and observe classroom instruction, which has contributed to the sharing of teaching methodologies. And NYU faculty participate in International Week in Amsterdam, an annual spring event for dental hygiene educators from Europe, Canada, and Australia sponsored by INHOLLAND University, at which they present seminars on topics such as integrating dental hygiene and dental student clinical education, cultural sensitivity training for students treating an ethnically diverse patient population, and other distinctive aspects of the NYU curriculum.

This spring marked the inception of a fourth international dental hygiene exchange program, this time with the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

The dental hygiene international student exchange program at New York University provides unique opportunities for students to gain insight into our multicultural world and to advance disease prevention and health promotion at the global level.