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Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Whitmer, Fast Track BS in Dental Hygiene '13

Win/Win Proposition: How Thomas Whitmer ’13 Discovered His Professional Passion and a Path to Dental School

  • “After completing four years in the Marine Corps and two tours in Iraq, I wanted to try something new and completely different,” says Tom Whitmer BS Dental Hygiene ’13. “I wanted a degree that could provide me with experience and earning potential, but also enable me to pursue more education and training in my field. I was considering different career options in healthcare, but it was important that I knew exactly what I was pursuing if I were to commit to more education after an undergraduate degree.”

    Whitmer definitely wanted a challenge, and both medical and dental schools were high on his list of options. He was well aware that either path would be arduous, time-consuming, and require a significant financial investment. Whitmer’s moment of realization occurred when he discovered the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

    “This was a great option for me,” says Whitmer, “since I realized that I could earn an undergraduate degree for a well-paying, in-demand profession while at the same time getting a feel for real-life dentistry. The added bonus was that I was able to use my GI Bill benefits to pay for the majority of my costs.”

    A truly hands-on experience

    As Whitmer notes, the Predental Track at MCPHS includes a particularly advantageous 16-month professional phase in Boston working alongside clinical experts in the school’s renowned on-campus clinic and nearby community offices.

    “Interacting with real patients was ideal for me,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, that was the beginning of my career in dentistry. I learned that I loved the work and was able to help people get and stay healthy.”

    “My clinical experiences also helped me to put together a more competitive application for dental school. Because I was able to become licensed and practice as a dental hygienist, I had real-life work experience in the dental field,” he says.

    Had Whitmer decided to wait some time prior to starting the application process for dental school, he would have also had the option of pursuing full-time employment and earning a good salary. Whitmer also notes that his training as a dental hygienist helped to prepare him for the rigors of dental school. “I already had a good sense of how to interact with patients, so this experience helped me when it came time to complete my clinical requirements at Tufts University, School of Dental Medicine.”

    Perfect positioning for grad school or career launch

    Since the time Whitmer attended MCPHS, the Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (Predental Track) was established. Whitmer and a colleague, Dr. Tyler Eatchel BS Dental Hygiene ’12, helped advise during the establishment of this program. Dr. Eatchel followed a similar route to the University of Michigan, School of Dentistry.

    Whitmer notes that he spent more than a year after his undergraduate degree pursuing his prerequisite classes for dental school. “I’m glad to see a dental hygiene (Predental Track) now offered,” he says, “since it provides a streamlined approach for pursuing dental school while becoming a dental hygienist. Had this program existed at the time that I attended dental hygiene school, I definitely would have done it!”

    With his prerequisites in place, Whitmer chose to continue on to dental school. The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (Predental Track) also positions students for rewarding careers as dental hygienists. U.S. News & World Report ranked dental hygienist at #2 on its list of “100 Best Health Care Support Jobs of 2016.” The median wage for hygienists was $72,330 in a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, and the demand for hygienists is projected to increase as much as 19 percent by 2024. The numbers are gleaming for dentists, too. In 2015, the median wage was $158,310, and growth in demand was estimated at 18 percent.

    A network of mentors and colleagues for life

    “Using dental hygiene to build my career and pursue dental school was always part of my thought process,” says Whitmer. “What I didn’t fully appreciate was how meaningful the total MCPHS experience would be. My professors became my mentors, and I view them as my colleagues and friends. The connections I’ve made in the profession and throughout the program gave me the confidence to achieve my educational goals. For anyone considering advanced training in the health professions, MCPHS is a great way to go.”