Q & A with a Professor

Julie Bencosme, Hostos ’83,

Professor of Allied Health, Dental Hygiene

This interview was conducted by Felix O. Sánchez, Alumni Relations Manager on 6/18/2020, and has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: How have you been involved in our city’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

A: I'm currently the president of the New York chapter of the Hispanic Dental Association. As part of that role, we had an event on May 27 at Lincoln Hospital where the Association donated nearly 500 toothbrushes and toothpastes to the health care workers at Lincoln Hospital.

Health care workers serving in these hospitals were working double shifts. The last thing on their mind was oral health, but oral health is a critical component of overall health. In my role as president of this Association, I've decided to support the oral health needs of the health care workers.

Q: What have you been asked to do at work during this time, and how has your role changed as a result of the current crisis?

A: As a faculty member at Hostos, I now have to adapt to teaching online. That has its challenges.

Q: How has your job and role during the crisis impacted you personally, professionally, emotionally or physically?

A: Professionally, I had to come up with new ideas to support my students via virtual chats. You find different angles for how to support them. Emotionally, I can really empathize with what my students are going through. They were looking forward to graduating and going to their graduation ceremony. Their awards ceremony and all of that was really cut short for them.

Q: What advice do you have for others entering your field during a time of crisis?

A: Well right now, the field of dental hygiene is one of the medical professions that is less at risk for contacting COVID-19. We don’t have to work directly with sick patients. Despite this, many practicing dental hygienists have either decided to retire early or not return to work after the pandemic. This has created many job openings for our future graduates.

For professors, there are some opportunities we can make for our students. We were sent home in March, and I teach an exiting course, DEN 224 Senior Seminar, in the spring semester where all we discuss is the workplace. The first time I saw them online they looked so sad, but I wanted to still make the class helpful. I said, “[We could have] virtual chats with placement agencies!" I got three placement agencies to do video chats with them. Now they already have three places that have their resume on file, so once they get their license, they're good to go! They have made such a sacrifice. During one of those chats, I noticed that one of the students has her little girl in the background, and I said, “Oh, I see your daughter.” She said, “That's one of them. I put the other one in the living room so that I could be part of this chat.”

Q: From your observations, what is the impact of COVID-19 on your field in the community, the city, and nationally?

A: Nationally, the dental field was hit very hard because we were instructed to close all dental offices—except for emergency services—in March. Dental office openings vary state by state, city by city, each with individual restrictions. The profession also took a very big hit financially with all the new government guidelines. The dental staff has to have more protective wear, which adds extra expense on the employer. The community has also been impacted because, of course, communities that are already underserved were hardest hit by COVID-19. One of the things that we have noticed is that there is a great deal of talk about tele-medicine and tele-dentistry, but if you lost your job, do you have a phone to call? Can seniors really handle tele-medicine? What if you have a disability? COVID-19 has a very big impact on the on the underserved.

Q: Please share your message or advice to Hostos graduates during this difficult time.

A: Please hang in there and trust that the faculty and staff at Hostos really are invested in our students. We understand the challenges that they may have. Hostos has gone to great lengths to support our students. The dental hygiene program’s faculty and staff are working diligently to ensure that its students complete all their requirements to graduate and become successful professionals.

This Q&A has been edited for style and length.

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