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Two Externs Share Clinical Practice and Life in Cherokee Country
What better way to get a glimpse into a dental health career than to work alongside dentists, dental hygienists, assistants and even oral surgeons while still enrolled in dental school? Catherine (Cady) Kimble and Rachel Erin Harris experienced just that while taking part in the DOH Externship Program. Friends since beginning the dental program at the University of Louisville, KY, Cady and Rachel (now D4 students) were eager to practice their clinical and operative skills as a team.
“We submitted our applications with the request that we be placed together,” says Cady. The two classmates traveled to the Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, NC, shared a hotel room for four weeks and drove back and forth to the facility each day. They even worked together as a team throughout the day, swapping back and forth between seeing patients and assisting each other.
“It was great to have a classmate there to bounce ideas off of and to help me when I was having a difficult time on a procedure,” says Rachel. “Since we worked together so much during the externship, we are each other’s best assistants now that we are back at dental school.”
Led by Dr. Timothy Lozon, the IHS Dental Externship Program is in its fourteenth year. Annually, 25 to 35 IHS sites award dental externships to more than 100 students from dental schools across the country. The program is available to dental students during the summer before they enter their final year of dental school. Most externships last two weeks. Students pursue the externship to obtain hands-on clinical experience performing procedures and assisting facility staff but many often become involved in community disease prevention and general wellness programs as well.
The opportunity also allows dental students to experience life and work in rural Indian health communities. As luck would have it, Cherokee sits within the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most picturesque parts of the country and a location that offered ample opportunities for the two externs to pursue outdoor activities during their time off.
As for their time spent in the clinic, both agree the experience far surpassed their expectations. “The Cherokee community welcomed us and the staff were great mentors and very helpful,” says Cady. “Without their support we would not have learned as much. It was great to get so many different approaches and philosophies from the dentists we worked with.”
Rachel went in expecting to obtain clinical experience and to improve her clinical speed and time management skills. “This experience definitely fulfilled those expectations. As a result of my externship, I am much more confident in myself as a soon-to-be dentist.”
The externship also allowed the externs to observe more complicated surgical procedures, including extractions and a pediatric case using general anesthesia in the operating room. They also visited a dialysis center on the Cherokee reservation and performed dental screenings on patients receiving treatment there.
“The number of fillings that I did at Cherokee in four weeks was three times as many as I did in an entire year of dental school. I feel much more confident and competent with direct restorations now,” Cady explains.
“They didn’t throw us any unexpected curve balls,” she adds. “The staff clearly laid out their expectations for us and the hospital rules. We were never asked to do procedures that we were uncomfortable doing and we were given the needed amount of individual supervision to make us feel welcome and comfortable.”
Rachel credits the experience — seeing at least six patients a day and performing operative procedures, new patient exams and pediatric dentistry — for cementing her decision to find work in a public health clinic back in her hometown of Jacksonville, FL, following graduation in May 2015.
“The doctors were very willing to share their experiences working for IHS and the Cherokee Indian Hospital and encouraged us to consider a career with IHS following graduation.”
Cady plans to complete the Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency program through the US Air Force following graduation. The AEGD program provides advanced training in didactic and clinical dentistry, including oral disease prevention, treatment planning and IV-conscious sedation. Following her three-year commitment, Cady says both private practice and the public health field, including IHS, are options she plans to consider.
All in all, the experience was a positive one for both Cady and Rachel and offered the added benefit of establishing relationships with future career advocates. Cady notes that the quality of the mentoring and training she received was the most important factor in the success of her extern experience.
Rachel agrees that the mentoring and relationships forged with the doctors at Cherokee were some of the best aspects of her externship experience. “Not only could I request references from these doctors, but I could also pick up the phone and call them anytime to talk,” she says. “They are great mentors and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them.”
Representatives from the IHS Dental Externship Program are always willing to answer questions for potential participants. To learn more, contact: