Hmmm…I’ve never heard it referred to as a second level profession OR on a comparable level as a paralegal either. Most RDH programs are very hard to get into, as class sizes are limited, and courses are demanding. Aside from class time, you spend many hours in clinic (with the added stress of obtaining your own patients) as well as office rotations, volunteering for projects on the weekends,do hospital/nursing home/classroom visits, writing presentations,etc. There are also pre-requisite courses they suggest before you can even be considered for admission. You are also told ( on your pre-admission interview), that they do not suggest you work at all during the program. For the ones that do work,something usually has to give…job or grades. They essentially cram a 4 year degree into a 2 year program, so be prepared to give up a lot of your life if you decide to pursue it. Admission will also depend on the results of the DHAT (Dental Hygiene Apptitude Test) as well as any prior sciences that meet the requirements. Most classes are geared to hygiene (Head & Neck Science),but most of my pre-req’s were with nursing students.
On completion, you have to take and pass 4 sets of boards to become licensed. Law & Ethics, Radiology, NERB’s(North East Regional Boards) and National Boards (depending on your state,but I see you’re in Florida,so NERB). In Florida, jobs are scarce, pay is low, and from what I understand, the field is saturated. Several states have many hygienists looking for jobs longer than a year now, so it is something to consider.
If I had it to do over,I think I might have chosen nursing instead. With hygiene, you usually get no benefits other than your salary, and there’s nowhere to go in the profession…unless you go to dental school. On the plus side, you work alone (but still have to deal with office politics), you used to be able to work making as much PT as someone else working FT, you have close patient contact, its extremely rewarding helping people obtain better,healthier mouths, and if you’re lucky, you can find a place to work where you don’t work nights and Saturdays.
I’d check into the Florida hygiene stats first if I were you. Their State Boards are among the hardest for people moving into the area (none are reciprocal as yet) and look around for some hygiene sites and do some reading.One is Amy,RDH which has forums for both students as well as practitioners. Might give you some insight.