Dr. Sandra Horne, professor of dental hygiene, is the American Dental Hygienists' Association's Educator of the Year.
Dr. Sandra Horne, professor of dental hygiene, is the American Dental Hygienists' Association Educator of the Year.
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Horne reaps kudos for classroom ingenuity, problem-solving

Published on Monday, April 12, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins

When Dr. Sandra Horne wants a lesson to really get through to her students, she’s apt to use an analogy.

It’s why, in a class devoted to teaching dental hygienists how to safely and effectively clean a patient’s teeth, she talks about riding a bike.

“Typically on the first day of the class, I’ll ask my students: When was the last time you had to develop a skill? What about riding a bicycle?” Horne said of her learners in the School of Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“It took you many hours to perfect the technique. There’s no easy way to do it, except repetition.”

And so it is with learning the skills needed for practicing as a dental hygienist. Her students in Dental Hygiene Instrumentation learn how to hold the tools they gently insert below a patient’s gumline. They learn how their brain and fingers talk to each other about what they feel when they use the tools.

Her lessons aren’t contingent on a textbook, or the notes a student would take during a lecture. Instead, students work noiselessly in a laboratory on mannequin heads and mouths, focused on their “patient” and use of tools to remove tartar below and above the gumline.

Dr. Sandra Horne, professor of dental hygiene, checks the work of student Elaina Lam during Dental Hygiene Instrumentation class.
Horne checks Elaina Lam's work during dental hygiene instrumentation class. Lam is a dental hygiene student.

Horne talks them through the hands-on lesson. “You’re starting your one- to two-millimeter overlapping strokes,” she said. “Tilt the tip slightly. Let it go under the gingiva (gums). Stop … take a breath … roll it. Remember, you are coming across your patient’s chest and your arm is at a right angle.”

It’s obvious that Horne is fond of her students.“I want them to take pride in their work and not go for the easiest route,” she said. “Sometimes, what’s best is the most difficult path.”

That’s just one reason why the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the largest national organization representing the professional interests of dental hygienists, named her its 2021 Educator of the Year. “Sandra Horne is a shining example that makes our entire profession proud,” the association said on its social media in announcing her selection.

It’s the first time a Mississippi dental hygiene educator has been honored with the award.

Elizabeth Carr

“Every team has got to have a problem solver, and hands down, she is ours,” said Dr. Elizabeth Carr, associate professor and chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene. “To have her recognized at the national level for her ingenuity, and consistently looking at what is the best way to teach our students … She is coming into her own.”

Horne’s decisive action in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of her resiliency and innovation, Carr said. When the virus kept students from attending class in person, “Sandra immediately went into problem-solving mode. She analyzes situations and comes up with ingenious solutions, and they work because of the time she puts into planning and thinking it out.”

Dental hygiene student Caroline Watson combines instruction from Dr. Sandra Horne with a video lesson in learning how to properly clean a patient's teeth.
Caroline Watson, a dental hygiene student, combines Horne's instruction with a video lesson to learn how to properly clean a patient's teeth.

Horne supplied her students with detailed videos of the teeth-cleaning process and explanation of the treatment as it unfolded. She continues to use videos in class to supplement students’ hands-on work.

“It is no secret to say that when the pandemic hit, as a dental hygiene student in the midst of a heavy hands-on learning curriculum, I was terrified for my next steps,” said second-year student Ashlynn Baney.

“Dr. Horne eased every worry I had and more. While being virtual, she still provided each student with one-on-one learning experiences.”

Horne “pushes you to be your best self,” said first-year student Colby Smith. “You can tell when she teaches how much she loves it.”

Barbara Brent

Barbara Brent, an instructor in the dental hygiene program, graduated with Horne from the dental hygiene program. “Sandra has been a mentor to me as an educator as well as a colleague while I worked on advancing my education,” she said.

Horne joined SHRP’s faculty in 1997 as a clinical education specialist, advancing to serve as a clinical coordinator and director and rising to professor in 2016. She received her bachelor of science from SHRP in 2002 and doctorate in health care administration in 2015.

Horne also earned a master of health service administration from Mississippi College in 2004. Horne was honored in 2016 with the Outstanding Clinical Health Sciences and Health Administration Award for her SHRP research and was chosen SHRP’s Teacher of the Year in 2007. Horne was named to UMMC’s Nelson Order in 2005.

The constantly changing landscape of dental hygiene education and practice keeps Horne engaged. “I absolutely love it,” she said. “I enjoy digging into the material before I teach it. It’s inevitable that if you keep with research and practice, there’s enough change that it stays interesting.”

Horne also taught Carr. “She has a knack for tweaking her message for the person she’s speaking to,” Carr said. “I can’t count the times I’ve come to her and said, ‘I don’t know what to say to this student.’”

Horne wants her students to graduate not just knowing the tools of the trade. She wants them to know how to connect with their patients.

“I want them to have genuine concern for providing optimum care,” she said. “I want them to give it their all.”