Dental school graduates cannot get licenses during pandemic

Dental school graduates across the state of Florida are ready to get to work, but the pandemic is preventing them from getting their licenses.

Usually, dental students completed a series of board exams, one of which includes a live clinical patient exam but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, completing that requirement isn’t possible right now.

For the class of 2020 ate St. Peterburg College, dental hygiene graduates are in limbo.

“This month my class has graduated. We finished all the required coursework and we will be receiving our diplomas,” said Josephine Valen, who spent two years studying to become a dental hygienist. “With our licensure, we’re required to take four exams, and almost 100% of my class has taken three of them and have passed.”

Valen said the pandemic prevents them from taking their last exam to start their careers.

“The clinical exam requires a live patient. Unfortunately, these exams are held at so many dental schools around Florida and schools aren’t letting anybody on campus at this time,” said Valen, who said the social distancing requirements also hinder their ability to complete the exam.

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Without the last exam, the graduates can’t get their license to work. So the Florida Board of Dentistry has decided to support waiving the live patient exam requirement.

“I think this is a moment where we all have to unite, the schools, the board members and everyone, and let’s do what’s right for everyone,” said Claudio Miro of the Florida Board of Dentistry.

It's up to the governor to make it legal. The board passed along its support of a waiver to the executive branch earlier this month, but students say they haven’t heard any updates.

“Me and many of my classmates have made several calls and no answer, sent many emails, no answers, no replies,” said Valen. “I know several other students from other schools have emailed the governor and their state legislators to kind of get their attention in making this decision for us.”

Students told the dentistry board during a May 8 meeting that it’s costing them valuable time.

“A lot of our employers who we signed contracts with are wondering when we’ll be able to work for them,” said Julie Davie, a student with the LECOM School of Dental Medicine.

Frustrated graduates like Valen said they want an answer so they can serve the needs in their communities. She said if the exam requirement is waived, she would be able to pay the fees for the license and get to work.

“A lot of older hygienists who were almost on the verge of retiring because of this pandemic, they left practice early and did an early retirement,” said Valen. “We’re already low access to care within the state, so this would fulfill that need.”

FOX 13 reached out to the governor’s office for comment about the waiver but did not get a response in time for broadcast. FOX 13 also reached out to the Florida Board of Dentistry for comment but didn’t receive a response.

Valen said her class hopes for an answer soon because they can’t start working until they get their licenses.

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LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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