What I Learned From Taking Clinical Boards Years After Graduating

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Earlier this year, my husband David was looking for a new job. He’s in marketing, and was interviewing all over the states. After he was considering a job in New York, I had a little panic attack about moving and not being able to practice because of my boards credentials. So, I decided to sign up to take the CDCS board exam 8 years after graduating hygiene school. And I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. I feel comfortable with my scaling abilities, but the paperwork, having a qualified patient and organizing everything made it a little overwhelming. Here are a few things I learned with this experience:

1.    Read the Candidate Guide multiple times. I know that seems so simple, but read it! Three or four times even. It tells you everything you need to know, like patient arrival time, paperwork needed, and instrument requirements. Knowing all this before the exam definitely helped decrease stress on the day of since I knew exactly what was expected.

2.    Know the grading scale. Every exam grades differently. Some have an assessment aspect, some have higher point values for calculus errors, some take points of for time. Know exactly what you’re going to be graded on for your specific test so you aren’t worried about something day of that won’t effect your overall score.

3.    Come prepared. If you can, bring an extra set of scalers. Most schools will have extra instruments that you can loan. If you’re planning on this, bring a sharpening stone since you never know how sharp they will be. It does take time away from your exam if you drop an instrument, so ask before the exam starts to have some close to you just in case something happens.

4.    Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The floor monitor and site employees are there to help! They can answer your questions about anything from paperwork to patient requirements. This isn’t the first time someone has asked them a question and, honestly, you’ll probably never see them again, so ask away!

5.    Ask your colleagues. Before my exam, I didn’t know anyone who had taken CDCS before. That definitely made me nervous since I didn’t have anyone guiding me through the process. I was able to reach out on some of my local dental hygiene groups, and so many people responded with support. I had hygienists who took the test within the last year go over my selection, walk me through the check in and check out process, answered some paperwork questions I had. Another reason why I love dental hygiene- we are all in this together!

6.    Use all the time if you need it. In practice, we never get 2 hours to complete one quadrant of periodontal debridement. However, using the full 2 hours was so helpful! I was able to take my time, explore tooth by tooth, and chat with my patient about post op instructions and home care. Letting myself take the entire time made it less stressful.

If you’re thinking of taking clinical boards long after graduation, you can do it! It will definitely be a little stressful, but you will push yourself and grow in a new way. Hygienists are smart and resilient and you are no different. Good luck!


If you have questions about clinical boards, please email us! We’d love to help. hygieneedge@gmail.com


Did you take boards years after hygiene school? What was your experience? What did you learn?