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Collaborating to Train Aspiring Dental Assistants

Monday, August 12, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joy Ingram
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by Mark Koday, DDS, Dental Director, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic

In my role as the Chief Dental Officer for Yakima Valley Farm Workers clinic, I have served on many boards and committees at the encouragement of our CEO, Carlos Olivares.  Carlos believes that we have an obligation to serve our communities in a leadership as well as a service capacity.

For over 20 years, I have been a member of the YV Tech Dental Assistant Advisory Board. I am a member of the advisory committee because we host many of their dental assistant trainees in our clinics, and I believe it is my civic responsibility to help young people who are eager to take up a dental profession.

I admit that there were times when I questioned whether I really wanted to spend an evening talking about policies and curriculum after a long day at work. However, at the end of one of our meetings, Craig Dwight, the Director of Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center, announced that the Washington State legislature had allocated funding for a new facility to house their education programs. Included in that funding were funds to build a fully functional dental clinic to enhance the current clinical training program training for the dental assistant trainees.

Dwight asked if Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic would be interested in developing the clinic portion of the project and run the clinic, once built. Our goal: improve the education of the dental assistant trainees by offering an in-house clinical training. The existing program was strong, but primarily focused on didactic training, lab training, and the use of models to learn dental assisting procedures. They also tried to assign as many trainees as possible for a clinical internship that occurred mostly in private dental offices.

Most of the dental students are in high school and are often intimated when placed in an unfamiliar, professional environment to learn hands-on procedures for the first time. Private practice dentists need to maintain a fast pace and are not always able to accommodate a new trainee. The workflow of this new clinic was designed for high production but also to accommodate the students’ needs for familiarity and dental staff that are dedicated to education.

Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic has hosted in-house dental assistant training for years; this type of partnership was a perfect fit. With the new clinic, we will be adding critical hands-on training to raise the students’ clinical competencies before they do their training at a private office or health center.

YV Tech and YVFWC signed a collaborative agreement that detailed project responsibilities and enabled very smooth project development. Linda Sellsted was given the position as the clinic manager. She assembled a YVFWC project team from operations, procurement, information services, and marketing. YV Tech selected the same architect firm,KDF Architecture Inc, that built our clinics and Burkhart Dental. We use both companies so the clinic design, equipment procurement, and supplies preparations ran very smoothly.

YV Tech was very accommodating and allowed us to participate in the selection process of a key staff member that will be involved with the training portion of the clinic. There was enough state funding to build and equip the clinic, which meant it required very little of our initial investment. Most of our costs have gone to purchase EDR software rights and start-up dental supplies for the clinic.

The clinic opens in August with five operatories run by our center and four operatories, a dental classroom, and lab run by YV Tech. We will staff the clinic side with one dentist, one fulltime dental supervisor, one to three dental assistants, and a receptionist. Since we will need to create a patient pool it will take some time to gear up for full productivity.  The training protocol will be the same one that has worked well in the past. The trainee will first assist our Dental Assistant (DA). As the trainee becomes more competent and confident, the roles will reverse - the trainee will be assisted by our DA. Eventually, the trainee will go solo and assist the dentist without any help. Once they get to that point, the trainees will be eligible for externships outside the school in private offices and health centers including our other dental clinics.

YV Tech’s idea for collaborating with a health center actually came from their discussions with the Technical Skills Center in Seattle. They have had a long-term training program/dental clinic partnership with Sea Mar CHC’s dental program run by Dr. Alejandro Narvaez.  Dr. Narvaez invited us over to spend a day at the clinic and talk with their staff. This proved very helpful as plans for the YV Tech clinic developed.

From its inception, we saw that this partnership was a good way to respond to multiple issues. First, it increases the clinical capacity we need to accommodate the expected increase in demands from health care reform. Since the clinic is school based, it gives us a way to test out a model for future access expansion. We also saw this as a great opportunity to help improve a program that has served the Yakima valley well for years. Finally, it allows us a greater ability to identify well-trained dental assistants to fill our own staff vacancies.

Since this program is located at the YV Tech campus, we decide to prioritize the teenage population for access. This age group is a difficult one to access but we have developed a marketing plan that integrated input from a teen focus group. We may also offer additional services such as orthodontics to better attract these patients into the clinic. 

This is one of those projects that went very smoothly and was well managed on both sides. The cooperative spirit from both organizations, evident from the beginning, also contributed to a relatively glitch-free process.

In many ways, this clinic came about from the Executive Director’s, Carlos Olivares, willingness to allow me to participate in numerous activities that have taken me out of the clinic over the years.  He understands that short-term losses in productivity are made up for by the strong partnerships that can only be built by participating in local and statewide activities. 


NWRPCA welcomes and regularly publishes white papers and articles submitted by members, partners and associates with subject matter expertise. The appearance of any guest publication in our Health Center News database represents the views of the author and does not constitute endorsement by NWRPCA of the stated opinions or perspectives, nor does it suggest endorsement of the contributor's products or services.

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