Rebecca S. Wilder, RDH, MS, is a professor and director of Faculty Development for the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry. She also serves as director of the Master of Science Degree Program in Dental Hygiene Education. She is currently editor in chief of the Journal of Dental Hygiene and an editor for the second edition of Mosby’s Dental Hygiene: Concepts, Cases, and Competencies published in 2008.
The 2002 recipient of the Colgate/International Association of Dental Research (IADR) Oral Health Research Award for outstanding accomplishments in oral health research, Wilder is also one of the 2002 recipients of the Pfizer/ American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) Award for Excellence in Dental Hygiene. In 2007, she received the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). In addition, she is a 2007-2008 American Dental Education Association Leadership Institute Fellow. Wilder speaks internationally in the areas of periodontics, oral-systemic health, and risk and practice management. She is also a Dimensions editorial advisory board member.
Did you always know you wanted to work in academia?
I actually began my career as a dental assistant working in private practice while I was still in high school. I loved the dental environment so after high school I completed a 1-year curriculum in dental assisting and then I worked for a year at the UNC School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill teaching dental students how to work with certified dental assistants. It was there that I got really interested in academia. At the same time, I knew I wanted to do more than dental assisting so I continued my education in dental hygiene.
There were several aspects about a career in academia that enticed me. I really liked the fact that the academic environment provides constant stimulation and the opportunity for continued learning. I also knew I wanted to work in a place where I would interact with a lot of people who were pursuing interesting work.
In your opinion, what is a major stumbling block for dental hygienists who may be considering going back to school to earn an advanced degree?
Most students returning to graduate programs are intimidated by the research component of the program. I believe that anyone earning a master’s degree should be required to conduct some research. What I typically find is that when students graduate they have learned so much and are so thrilled by what they have accomplished that they often want to go into a position where they can continue to do research. We’re not talking about laboratory research necessarily; it may be research on an educational topic or clinical research. Graduate students at UNC are required to conduct original research, write a thesis, and then submit a paper for publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal while under the guidance of a committee. They do excellent work and it’s a wonderful experience for them. I would advise anyone who is interested in graduate education to go for it. Do not be deterred by the research component. None of us started out knowing how to conduct research!