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IHS volunteers reap experience

Dental students, practicing dentists and retired dental health professionals can all make a difference and learn more about career opportunities by volunteering with Indian Health Service and tribal dental clinics.

Raha Yousefi, a third-year dental student at Howard University College of Dentistry, was one of eight dental students sponsored by the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations to participate in a program to support the IHS externship program this summer at White Earth Indian Health Center in Ogema, Minn. The participants served as dental assistants at the clinic for two weeks.

"It was an incredible experience," said Ms. Yousefi. "The facilities were really nice and I was amazed by how they incorporated the local culture."

The clinic's walls, she said, featured photos of a local American Indian festival and of residents harvesting wild rice—two important pieces of the community's culture and heritage.

"The patients were wonderful," she added. "At first I thought they'd be apprehensive since we were students. They were so kind, wanted to get to know us, they encouraged us to check out [nearby] Itasca State Park. We students got so much education about the people and the area because they love sharing their stories."

Ms. Yousefi said she signed on for the program because she wanted to see what practice in a government facility was like. "I've worked in private practice before, but this was really amazing. It was a good way to talk to other people and see how their dental careers were going. I thought the dentists at the clinic gave us respect and it was mutual. I will definitely apply again in 2009. I'm really glad the ADA has this program. It really was a great time."

U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Linda Jackson, D.D.S., chief dental officer for White Earth Indian Health Center, is the program's supervisor.

"I really enjoy working with the externs and other dental students and I am really grateful of the support that we received from the ADA this year in funding the pilot project to allow dental students to participate as dental assistants. This not only helped with our clinic objective but it also exposed dental students to our public health practice at an earlier point in their careers.

"These students are the future of the dental profession and we have the opportunity to show them firsthand what it is like to practice in a public health setting," Capt. Jackson added. "Our hope is that by exposing students to our practice, this will spark interest in choosing a career path that includes public health dentistry. Our externship is a tremendous learning experience as the students are able to treat a larger number of patients on a daily basis than they can in dental school.

"They work under the direct supervision of our dentists on staff and are given the guidance to build upon the skills that they learned in school to treat more complex dental diseases. The students are appreciative of the support that they receive from both patients and staff and they leave the externship feeling more confident in their ability and more open to considering public health as a future career path."

Dr. Earle M. Schulz Jr., a semi-retired pediatric dentist in Baltimore, volunteered at the IHS Hopi Health Care Center in Polacca, Ariz., in March.

"I worked as a public health service dentist in the 1960s at an American Indian reservation north of Missoula, Mont., and it was an eye-opening, marvelous experience," said Dr. Schulz. "I thought it would be interesting to see how PHS dentistry has changed since then. I was glad to learn that the ADA supported its member dentists volunteering for the IHS. It motivated me to work a little harder, work a little longer."

Dr. Schulz sold his practices 15 years ago and transitioned into practicing hospital dentistry. He now practices about two days a week and has time to volunteer and take classes—like photography—at a nearby community college.

Dr. Schulz added, "I enjoyed my Arizona experience, from working in the modern, well-equipped, well-staffed clinic, to exploring the Grand Canyon on my weekend off. I was there a little over two weeks, and I kept busy the whole time."

Drs. Charles Worton and Kimberly Stopar-Worton also volunteered at the Hopi clinic earlier this year.

"We're retired," said Dr. Charles, "but we maintain our licenses because we wanted to volunteer. We wanted to give back to people in need and to dentistry."

"We thought volunteering with IHS would be a great opportunity," said Dr. Kimberly. "It really is a fantastic opportunity for retirees or even for active practitioners. The Hopi were so receptive to having volunteers come to help in their clinic and it was a great experience. We hope to go back."

"Yes," added Dr. Charles. "We would do it again in a heartbeat."

For more information on IHS Dental Externships, or for applications to the program from class of 2010 students, visit www.dentist.ihs.gov. The online application will be available Oct. 31.

For more information on the ADA's placement program for dentists who want to donate two weeks or more to provide oral health care to American Indian/Alaska Native communities, contact Gary Podschun toll-free, Ext. 7487.

To learn more about careers with the Indian Health Service, contact Capt. Tim Lozon, D.D.S., at 1-800-IHS-DENT (447-3368) or visit www.dentist.ihs.gov.