By JEAN DUBIEL
Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. — “What did the tooth say to the departing dentist? Fill me in when you get back!”
The American Red Cross at Fort Polk offers dental assistant training to Family members of active duty and retired Soldiers. The nearly eight-month long course results in a certificate of training that can be used to either obtain employment in a clinical setting or further one’s education in dentistry.
For spouses that are looking for a “portable” career, dental assistant may a viable option.
“They get great experience with this program,” said Capt. Kevin Brunstein, U.S. Army Dental Activity, Chesser Dental Clinic, dental assistant program director. “It takes them from knowing nothing about dentistry to being proficient dental assistants. That qualifies them to work at any Army post or even in civilian offices, so there are many employment opportunities for them, no matter where they may get stationed.”
Dental instructor and former student Jennifer Walker said most trainees never have considered a career in health care, and this program gives them their first look into that field.
“It gives them a new perspective on what kinds of jobs are out there,” she said. “They have the opportunity to try a new field, and it gives them another aspect of (career development).”
The program also provides a benefit for the Army, according to Brunstein. “It is good for the DENTAC because it can be hard to find qualified dental assistants, especially in more remote locations like Fort Polk,” he said. “Here we have a chance to train them and do so to our standards.”
Leslie Jones is the Red Cross program manager for Fort Polk. She said the program has been offered at Fort Polk for the past 10 years. “We are excited to offer life-enriching opportunities for our military spouses, retirees and dependents,” she said.
“We realize that they tend to move around a lot, going from installation to installation, and this offers a great career path that can transfer to new locations with their service member.”
The current class has five participants who began their coursework in January and will graduate July 19. They are: Michelle Isom, Laura Harrison, Bianca Bowen, Kiara Carter and Sharlene Palarchie.
Isom said the classroom portion of the course was particularly challenging.
“It was four weeks of studying, 40 hours a week in class then more studying at home, even dreaming about studying!” she said. “We had exams and quizzes that we had to pass to determine if we were going to continue with the chair side portion of the course, and that was a little stressful, but the reward is in giving back to the military community. Soldiers give so much, and it’s great to be able to give back to them by brightening their smiles, making them feel better by relieving their pain and enhancing Army readiness as well.”
Palarchie said her greatest hurdle was taking X-rays. “I had to overcome my (apprehension) to place a sensor in the patient’s mouth and not causing them any discomfort while trying to get a clear (image). It was a little intimidating at first,” she said. “But I have enjoyed learning from the dentists and I want to learn more. All of the dentists and dental assistants have been amazing.”
Carter said she joined the program because she had a difficult time finding a job when she moved to Fort Polk.
“I was looking and looking, and started to get a little discouraged. Nothing was coming my way,” she said. Though her background is in business management, once she became involved in the dental assistant program, her interest changed.
“I knew nothing about this field when I started, but now here I am about to graduate and I absolutely love it,” she it. “And I don’t want to stop here, I want to continue my education and learn even more.”
Bowen came into the program because she felt she was at a crossroads in her life and was unsure of what she wanted to do next.
“I heard about this program from a coworker, and something just clicked,” she said. “I knew this would be right for me, and at first I was a bit skeptical because I thought this might be too good to be true, but now I feel really blessed to have been part of it. It has been truly amazing for me.”
For Harrison, becoming a dental assistant gave her a chance to develop herself.
“I like the medical field and I wanted to do something on my own and for myself,” said Harrison. “I wanted to do something with patient care, and this was it for me.”
Her advice for anyone considering the program is to “go for it.”
“You have everything to gain and nothing to lose for doing it,” she said. “It’s been the most positive experience of my life and I recommend it to anyone.”
The next application period opens July 25 and ends Aug. 31. Forms are available at the Red Cross office, 1778 Third St., bldg 220; Shira Dental Clinic, 7223 Mississippi Ave, bldg 1561; and Chesser Dental Clinic, 1840 BellRichard Ave., bldg 2157.
Applicants must be:
• current military ID card holders (spouse or Family member of active duty or retiree)
• able to commit to 40 hours a week training for eight months
• able to complete medical clearance and maintain current immunizations.
Completed forms will only be accepted at the Red Cross office.
For more information call 531-4783 or (804) 385-0966.
DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub (www.didvshub.net). The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
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