“While the pandemic has and will change many aspects of our lives, it has not erased the value of your education.” Those words were among the closing remarks at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine 2020 commencement ceremony. With social distancing orders still in effect for most of California due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university hosted its first digital graduation ceremony via Zoom on May 13 to honor the class of 2020.
Instead of walking across a stage in an auditorium full of family, friends and fellow graduates, 70 new dentists received their degrees in dental medicine, took the dentists’ pledge and conducted the hooding ceremony in their homes. This is not the celebration they expected when they began this journey four years ago, but they managed to find the silver lining in achieving this milestone in an unprecedented time.
“This experience is bittersweet,” said Shelby Maurice, DMD, a graduate of Western University College of Dental Medicine class of 2020. “This journey has taken so many years and has been such a big part of our lives, so to not be able to celebrate it in the way that we hoped and planned for so long forced us to reevaluate our expectations and appreciate where we’ve been and look forward to the future.”
As students in the class of 2020 embark on the next phase of their journey, the uncertainty of what’s next follows. During the commencement, Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS, dean of the College of Dental Medicine, reminded graduates that beyond the short-term challenges, rewarding opportunities lie ahead.
“Dentistry is a challenging yet rewarding profession,” he said. “You have the experience as a Western University grad to maneuver past the challenges and attain the rewards.”
Dr. Friedrichsen discussed several predictions of what’s to come including a post-pandemic economy that is likely to prompt a rapid consolidation of dental practices with more efficient and effective practice models, including the rising importance of minimally invasive treatments and the use of telehealth — a new system that recent graduates are well prepared for.
“Although it seems frightening right now, I’m very hopeful for the future,” Dr. Maurice said. “However this impacts the future of dentistry, I hope that it’s in a unifying and productive way that brings people together and elevates the profession.”
CDA coalition advocating for dental students
As for what’s next for Maurice, she’s looking forward to obtaining licensure so that she can begin practicing, but with clinical exams postponed or canceled, she is uncertain of when that will be. A coalition of dental school deans, CDA dental student delegates and CDA representatives is continuously advocating for an alternative pathway to licensure through manikin-based exams.
The Dental Board of California on May 14 directed the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Professional Examination Services to review the legal defensibility of the two manikin-based tests. CDA is working with the dental board staff and DCA to determine a time frame on when graduates will be able to begin taking the manikin-based exams.
Upcoming commencement ceremonies
The following dental schools will be hosting virtual ceremonies to honor the class of 2020:
- Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC: Friday, May 15, at 11 a.m. PST
- Loma Linda University School of Dentistry: Friday, May 22 (time TBD)
- University of San Francisco School of Dentistry: TBD
- University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry: Friday, June 12 (time TBD)
- University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry: TBD