Dental 3

Emma Gracey, dental assistant, Kuhn Dental Clinic, works with Capt. Roland Alonzo, DENTAC, during an appointment with Pvt. Joseph Karr, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Gracey graduated from Fort Campbell’s Dental Assistant Training Program, a collaboration between Fort Campbell Dental Command and the American Red Cross, in May 2020 before starting her job at Kuhn.

Fort Campbell Dental Command and the American Red Cross are now accepting applications for the annual Dental Assistant Training Program, a free, in-depth certification course that provides hands-on experience at the installation’s dental clinics.

All military ID card holders ages 18 and older are eligible for the program, and no prior dental experience is necessary. Soldiers and Families can request an application form through June 18 via email at campbell@redcross.org or by phone at 270-798-2171.

“We offer this program in order to facilitate spousal employment and to assist military [members] who are separating from the service to have a skill,” said Cassandra Wyatt, regional program manager, American Red Cross, Fort Campbell. “And really, to assist the dental clinic in being able to have competent, trained volunteers who can help them meet their mission to take care of the Soldiers.”

Wyatt said equivalent programs cost approximately $14,000-28,000 and may not include hands-on training opportunities, which means the DATP is highly competitive. She expects to see eight or nine students accepted for this year’s course, which begins Sept. 7.

“After two weeks in the classroom, they’re going to be with a different doctor and different specialties throughout all the clinics on the garrison,” Wyatt said. “They’re learning the knowledge of all the dentistry, instruments, the names and numbers associated with the teeth and all the techniques, and they’re also learning customer service and how to use an X-ray.”

The program adds up to 1,000 hours working alongside dentists, 40 hours of classroom instruction and at least 40 hours of in-processing. Wyatt said students should treat that time as a job commitment and be aware that child care is not provided.

“It’s a very intense program,” she said. “There are no days off, emergency leave is the only time they’re gone. They need to treat it as a job, be professional, be on time, follow the rules and have a good work ethic. That’s what’s needed in the program, and if they’re able to do that they can be successful and graduate.”

Emma Gracey, a dental assistant at Kuhn Dental Clinic, is among those who found employment through the DATP. She graduated from the program in May 2020 and said it provided her with valuable career development as a military spouse.

“What brought me to this was that I used to do hair, and that has to do with helping people feel better about themselves and their appearances,” she said. “I saw working in the dental field as similar to doing hair because you’re helping people feel better about their smile, but you’re also making them healthier and happier ... if you’re not fully set in your career moving into a new area and this is something that interests you, it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Gracey said being able to volunteer at every clinic on post through the DATP was especially helpful, since each doctor works differently.

“I’m just finishing up my first year as a dental assistant, but it’s definitely given me a really good start,” she said. “A lot of the assistants I was trained by and got to work with taught me to be more confident in my skills, and that was definitely a big help. It’s a really great program and I have absolutely no regrets doing it.”

Those interested in the program are asked to turn in their applications physically by 4 p.m. July 1 at the Fort Campbell American Red Cross, 95 Michigan Ave., Suite 43, and to bring their military ID card.

“The application has a questionnaire attached to it, and it’s sent over to the dental clinic,” Wyatt said. “There are no names or personal information on it, just responses to the questions and an essay. It gets evaluated by two dentists and two dental assistants at a minimum, and they score each answer ... then they come in, get a booklet for a week and study for a written test. We add the scores together, and whoever scores the highest gets the interview(s).”

That process helps make sure the students selected for the DATP have what it takes to succeed, Wyatt said.

“It’s a pretty fast-paced program, and they need to have the ability to learn and retain all the information,” Wyatt said. “They also have to be able to talk to the clients, work with the doctors, communicate issues and act on their own when there’s an emergency in the clinic.”

Having students involved with the garrison’s dental clinics also increases mission readiness by allowing doctors to more effectively care for a high volume of Soldiers.

“The program gives them trained dental assistants who can increase the number of patients they see in a day,” Wyatt said. “That helps increase their efficiency, and it’s a win-win because the spouses and Soldiers who take the program get training that can follow them no matter where they go.”