Obtaining Continuing Education Credits in the COVID-19 Era

Like countless dental professionals, you’re probably wondering how to complete your continuing education credits while everything is closed due to COVID-19. You aren’t alone! Dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants who normally have no problem getting their credits are now scrambling.

Many parts of the country have begun to reopen (for some purposes), but large events with crowded rooms won’t be available for some time. The places that do allow events are opting for smaller crowds to facilitate better social distancing.

As of July 2020, COVID-19 cases are declining, but that doesn’t mean we’re entirely safe. As healthcare workers, we have to set an example for others and behave cautiously for the sake of our patients, even outside of the dental office. With that in mind, we’d like to offer three pieces of advice to get your continuing education credits safely.

Check Your State’s Continuing Education Changes

COVID-19 created a lot of chaos for any program that requires people to meet together. Continuing education courses were no exception. Thousands of in-person courses, events, and seminars were cancelled or delayed all over the country, creating a problem for anyone who needs to obtain credits each year for their license.

Fortunately, most states have amended their continuing education rules to cut dental workers some slack. For example, in Connecticut, the governor suspended the continuing education requirements for six months for dental hygienists and is allowing anyone whose license to expire between April and October to renew without credits.

Most states have made similar allowances regarding the timing of continuing education credits and license renewals. Some states, however, have changed their rules regarding what counts as a continuing education course. A course that didn’t meet the state’s requirements last year may meet the new “loosened” requirements this year.

Your first step is to check with the appropriate body in your state to determine your next steps. If your state has granted leniency, it may be smarter (and safer) to wait a few months before seeking your continuing education credits. Or, like in the case of Connecticut, you may be able to renew without them at all.

Look Into Distance Learning Options

When schools all over the country shut down to protect kids and families from the virus, they switched to the distance learning model (or some variation of it). Educators had to quickly learn how to teach from afar without losing the effectiveness of their teaching.

Continuing dental education programs have been doing this for quite some time. There are countless online courses you can take to earn credits to renew your license. You can consume educational content from the comfort of your home or dental office. Depending on the timing of the course, you may be able to attend it during a lull at work.

If you are the owner or manager of a dental practice, distance learning courses are also a great way to save money. You don’t incur the expense of travel, housing, and food for your team when you visit an in-person course.

Each U.S. state has its own requirements for what qualifies as a continuing education credit. For instance, in California, “No more than 50% of the total required units may be taken as non-live or correspondence courses. Interactive courses, such as live video conferencing, live webinar, live lecture and live workshop demonstrations, may be considered as a “live course.” This means the course only grants credits if it’s taught live by a human. It can’t be a pre-recorded video or series of videos.

Stay Safe with Healthy Practices

If you decide to attend an in-person event to obtain your continuing education credits, it’s critically important that you take your health seriously. Just because a venue is open doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk. You’ll need to minimize your chance of exposure to COVID-19 for your sake as well as the health of your patients.

First, understand how COVID-19 spreads. It transfers from person-to-person when people are in close contact (about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.The droplets can land in your nose or mouth, or be inhaled when you breathe. Some studies suggest that COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Second, follow the CDC’s guidelines whenever you attend a continuing education session:

Wash Your Hands Often

Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after touching public surfaces, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Depending on the length of your continuing education course, you may want to excuse yourself to the bathroom a couple of times to wash your hands.

Sanitize When Washing Isn’t Possible

If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Keep a bottle in your pocket and use it frequently throughout the course.

Do not share your hand sanitizer bottle with other course students. It may seem like a nice gesture and a way to keep everyone safe, but that’s a common way to cross-contaminate with other people.

Wear a Mask That Covers Your Mouth and Nose

This will protect you somewhat, but it’s mostly to protect others (you could spread COVID-19 without feeling sick). Keep extra distance from anyone who isn’t wearing a mask.

Keep Your Hands Off Your Face

Your hands are more likely to pick up the virus than any other part of your body, so don’t put your hands in any of your facial orifices. This is harder than it sounds. Wearing a mask helps keep your hands out of your mouth and nose, but you’ll need to be disciplined to keep your fingers out of your eyes and ears.

Avoid Close Contact with Other People

Stay six feet (two arms length) from others at all times, even if they appear healthy. Do not sit shoulder-to-shoulder with other people in a lecture hall. If the class is crowded and you aren’t comfortable with the distance between attendees, don’t be afraid to stand along the wall or in the back of the room.

Cover Sneezes and Coughs

If you’re around other people, sneeze and cough into tissues. Dispose of them immediately. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze and cough into the inside of your elbow – never your hands. Wash your hands immediately afterward.

Disinfect Surfaces Before Contact

Before you sit at a table or theater chair, wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectant wipes work. Avoid touching other communal objects (like keyboards, phones, faucets, lightswitches, etc.) unless you absolutely must.

Monitor Your Health

Look out for symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms. Take your temperature before attending a continuing education course. Don’t go if you suspect you may be sick or you’ll jeopardize the health of others.

Download this free guide to learn how to behave to get the most value out of online continuing education classes.

Going Forward

Obtaining continuing education credits is an important part of maintaining your license and growing as a dental professional. COVID-19 may have thrown a wrench into our lives, but it’s possible to get your credits if you’re willing to make a few changes. Be safe!