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IHS Dentists Go Beyond the Routine!
What does success mean to you? Fulfilling a sense of mission and purpose? Adventures inside and outside the workplace? Working in a team environment where the focus is on treating a community of patients rather than bottom-line profit? If this sounds like your idea of an ideal career, the Indian Health Service (IHS) can be your path to professional and personal success.
IHS Fast Facts
Far from a typical dental practice, a career with IHS offers the opportunity for professional fulfillment and an adventurous lifestyle. You can live, work and play in cities and towns of all sizes. But the greatest need is in rural areas of spectacular natural beauty, offering a world of outdoor recreational activities such as biking, fishing, boating, rock-climbing and hiking. You practice in modern facilities, enjoy job stability and excellent benefits — including a generous loan repayment — and have exceptional opportunities for career advancement. But most importantly, you are performing a much-need public health service to an underserved population.
“I really like focusing on how we can help an entire community of patients rather than providing just individualized care,” says CDR Timothy L. Ricks, DMD MPH, and Chief of the Schurz Service Unit Dental Program in Nixon, Nevada.
“I left private practice because of the long hours, and I wanted something more than just drilling and filling every day. The IHS experience has given me increased satisfaction with dentistry and the knowledge that I’m actually making a difference.”
Dental public health is about preventing dental diseases through community outreach, says CDR Ricks, who oversees four clinics in western Nevada. While there is plenty of one-on-one patient care, you have opportunities to become involved in community prevention programs that can impact overall community disease rates. To improve oral health in the community, IHS has initiated a number of important projects including: water fluoridation programs, dental screenings, sealants, fluoride varnishes and distribution of Xylitol gum to school age children.
“These are all things I wanted to do in private practice, but couldn’t do because I didn’t have the time. Now it’s part of my daily job,” CDR Ricks says.
At IHS’ San Carlos Indian Health Service Hospital in San Carlos, Arizona, Chief Dental Officer CDR Jim H. Webb, DDS, works with similar programs in his community. His work is interdisciplinary, working daily with physicians to effect improvements in patients’ overall health.
“You generally don’t get that kind of exchange in private practice, as physicians don’t have the time,” says CDR Webb, who has been with IHS for 13 years. “In public health, we’re able to effect more systemic changes, and provide the high-quality dentistry for our patients that I’d be proud for my family to get. It’s rewarding to give back to a community of patients that really needs you.”
Learn About IHS Career Paths,
Benefits and Requirements
There are two Federal career paths available: the US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps and the Civil Service. CDRs Webb and Ricks both chose the Commissioned Corps path to an IHS career. The Commissioned Corps is a uniformed service of the government, but it’s non-military.
Choosing Civil Service is a means to professional career advancement and personal satisfaction without making a multi-year service commitment, but with competitive compensation and the generous benefit package the Federal government is known for.
Another richly rewarding experience is to work directly for a Tribe as a Direct Tribal Hire. Compensation, advancement and benefits offered by the Tribes vary depending on the Tribe and position, but are comparable to those enjoyed by Federal Civil Service employees.
The big draw for CDR Ricks, who joined IHS in 1999 after years of private practice, was the long-term benefits of the Commissioned Corps path such as the retirement plan, leave accrual, pay structure and military benefits.
“When I compared my career path options, I felt the Commissioned Corps would be the most rewarding for me personally in the long term,” he says. “I’ve had so many opportunities open to me, such as chairing the USPHS Dental Professional Advisory Committee, and serving as a member of the Surgeon General’s Policy Advisory Council (SG-PAC). Being an officer with Commissioned Corps is by far the best experience I’ve had as a dentist.”
Part of that experience has been the privilege to go beyond the call of duty. Commissioned Corps deployment to areas of critical need during a time of disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, can be fulfilling if you’re drawn to the challenge of serving your country during national emergencies.
“Commissioned Corps is a force that can help fill a need for the country in a time of great need,” says CAPT Timothy Lozon, DDS, Deputy Director of IHS Division of Oral Health. “Duties can include clinical dentistry, dental forensics, and liaison work, which can be the most challenging. To augment an individual’s skills, the Office of Force Readiness and Deployments provides training to equip officers to handle the kinds of assignments where they need to step out of the scope of their professional training.”
CAPT Lozon was deployed to the World Trade Center after 9/11 for forensic work, while CDR Webb and CDR Ricks requested deployments to the Hurricane Katrina-affected area. Both were deployed to Mississippi and for CDR Ricks there was a personal connection. Mississippi is his home state and he has family in the Gulf Coast area. CDR Webb describes the MASH-type dentistry he performed during his two weeks of deployment duty.
“I hit the ground running! I arrived at 7:30AM and was seeing patients by 8. It was a challenge, but when I saw what those people had gone through, it energized me. You can’t put a dollar value on the service we provided. For 200,000 - 300,000 people who had no healthcare, a little toothache was a huge problem, and they had no other resources. It was such a privilege to go down there and help them, and a heck of a lot more rewarding than traditional dental office work.”
Similarly, CAPT Linda Jackson, DDS, Chief Dental Officer at the White Earth Indian Health Center in Ogema, Minnesota, was deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for two weeks as part of the Hurricane Katrina emergency response. She worked as a liaison with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) in the critical task of identifying victims from the storm.
“I really wanted to be deployed. I look at is as a benefit of my job to have the opportunity to help people who are in severe need,” she says. “You can’t solve all the problems in two weeks, but I really feel like I was able to make a difference, and that’s worth it.”
If you’re ready for the adventure, IHS and the Commissioned Corps are ready for you.
For more information about IHS Division of Oral Health, visit: www.dentist.ihs.gov
Point of Contact:
Timothy L. Lozon, DDS
1-800-IHS-DENT (447-3368) or 301-443-0029 (direct)