By Jonathan Greenbergs
During the Dental Board of California’s December 4, 2020 meeting [Agenda Item 16(c)ii], the Board presented a legislative proposal that would delete the clinical or practical examination requirement for Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions (RDAEFs). As the law currently stands, the RDAEF examination is offered approximately eight times per year. Because the examination consists of a clinical and practical examination, it must be held at a dental school that has enough space to accommodate the approximately 25 to 30 candidates that are tested at each examination. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the examinations were typically held at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In May of 2020, UCLA and UCSF alerted the Board that the schools would not be able to host the test, due to Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order in light of COVID-19. After unsuccessfully searching for an alternative way to complete the examinations, the Board canceled the June and August 2020 examinations.
Under the Governor’s declaration of an emergency due to COVID-19 in Executive Order N-39-20, the Director of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is authorized to waive laws and regulations pertaining to professional licensing requirements during the state of emergency. On August 21, 2020, the Board requested that the Director temporarily suspend the clinical and practical examination licensing requirements for RDAEF applicants due to the inability to secure a testing location due to COVID-19 concerns. On August 31, 2020, the Board received notice that their waiver request was denied.
Through its work with the Office of Professional Examination Services (OPES), a unit within DCA, the Board has already established that “due to ethical and practical considerations, dental licensure examinations are moving away from patient-based assessments and this trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” In support of eliminating the RDAEF clinical and practical examination, the Board pointed out challenges with how the exam is administered, including that RDAEFs are a supervised profession requiring supervising dentists to determine when a RDAEF is ready to practice and perform the duties of the licensure. The Board also stated that it had not received consumer complaints relating to RDAEFs performing the procedures tested on the clinical and practical examinations. The Board has already eliminated the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) practical examination due to similar issues as those that face the administration of the RDAEF examination.
As part of the December Meeting Materials [at p. 199], the Board was asked to review a letter from the RDAEF Association. The Association acknowledged that dental licensure examinations should move away from patient-based assessments and supported the removal of the clinical patient portion of the RDAEF examination. However, the Association expressed reservations about eliminating any bench-restorative examinations, reminding the Board that these examinations were a useful metric for determining the strengths and weaknesses of different RDAEF programs in the past. Historically, high fail rates have notified the Board that a particular RDAEF program’s curriculum was deficient, and the RDAEF Association argued that removing these examinations could degrade the quality of the RDAEF program and the quality of the RDAEFs themselves. The RDAEF Association concluded by stating: “[s]hould the Board move forward with the elimination of both the clinical and restorative portion of the examination, the RDAEF Association would look forward to working with the Dental Assisting Council and Board staff to develop a meaningful process to maintain quality educational programs for the RDAEF.”
At its December 4, 2020 meeting, the Board voted 12–1 to approve the proposed statutory changes eliminating the statutory authority for the RDAEF practical and clinical examination and to direct staff to find an author to carry the bill to repeal the requirements of the RDAEF clinical and practical examination permanently.
On February 18, 2021, California Senator Richard Roth introduced the Board’s legislative proposal as SB 607 (Roth), which would amend sections 1753, 1753.55, 1753.6 of, and repeal section 1753.4 of the Business and Professions Code, which currently requires RDAEFs to complete a clinical and practical examination to obtain licensure. SB 607 (Roth) is scheduled for hearing on April 19, 2021.