American Red Cross, DENTAC train dental assistants

From left, Maria Estronza-Ramos, Stefanie Acosta, Elizabeth Wrightman and Daner Burnett, medical assistants with the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program, and Capt. William Spencer, general dentist and program director, Dental Assistant Training Program, pose for a picture as the group readies for chairside training at East Bliss Health and Dental Clinic here June 28. Photo by Marcy Sanchez, WBAMC Public Affairs.

From left, Maria Estronza-Ramos, Stefanie Acosta, Elizabeth Wrightman and Daner Burnett, medical assistants with the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program, and Capt. William Spencer, general dentist and program director, Dental Assistant Training Program, pose for a picture as the group readies for chairside training at East Bliss Health and Dental Clinic here June 28. Photo by Marcy Sanchez, WBAMC Public Affairs.

By Marcy Sanchez, WBAMC Public Affairs:

(El Paso, Texas, Aug. 10, 2017)

Over the past several months, a group of individuals have set upon a path to change their lives by becoming dental assistants through the Dental Assistant Training Program.

The free program, an American Red Cross initiative, consists of academic work followed by an intensive 600-hour chairside learning period that can span from eight to nine months.

As the 2017 spring cohort wrapped up, candidates and staff reflected on what the program brings to military families and dental operations.

“The program gets their fingers wet and helps them decide what they want to do next,” said Col. Valerie Holmes, commander, Fort Bliss Dental Activity. “It’s always amazing because, not only do you have someone who eventually wants employment, but you have a Soldier’s spouse (or family member), someone who is already connected to the military.”

Military identification cardholders, usually spouses or dependents, receive the opportunity to gain a valuable education, which may cost thousands of dollars at civilian colleges, and are prepared for entry-level positions in the field of dentistry.

“It’s a very no-nonsense program,” Holmes said. “Once they are in the clinic, they are actually working.”

After completing classroom instruction, the candidates rotate through dental clinic sections under the supervision of a dental professional. Training includes sterilization, X-ray, chairside (assisting dentists), laboratory and front desk operations. Upon successful completion of the program, participants may have the required hours and training necessary to test for national or state certification, depending on state requirements.

Before participating in the program, U.S. Army veteran, Daner Burnett, had previously enrolled in an 11-week dental assistant course she described as mainly classroom based. One of Burnett’s first civilian workplace experiences following her Army career was at a dental clinic, but only in administrative duties.

“I was always interested in what was going on behind the scenes,” said Burnett, a native of Mobile, Ala., and spouse of Staff Sgt. Brandon Burnett, a cyber-network defender assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. “There’s a lot of extra (duties) as a dental assistant administrative, but it’s all part of the learning experience and it’s been a good one.”

Admission to the program is straightforward; individuals must have a military identification, be at least 18 years old and be committed to the full-time program.

“We do have a very competitive program. We only take students who can complete the program and who are qualified,” said Lisa Boline, regional program specialist, American Red Cross. “It’s a very independent program and takes someone strong to get through it. It’s a struggle, but at the same time, we have the support of those in the clinics and the cohort.”

While the program requires strong participation, administrators remain conscious of participants’ needs as well, such as working with local school district schedules for participants with school-aged children and providing emergency leave to participants. To complete the program, participants are still required to obtain the required hours and complete the necessary curriculum by a deadline.

According to Holmes, the program goes beyond chairside experience at a regular dental office, with U.S. Army DENTAC standards being much higher than most civilian offices. What makes the difference in training is knowing candidates will be trained to Army standards.

“(Candidates) follow each procedure other employees do and go through orientation and (policy) training,” Holmes said. “It’s nice to see candidates progress. They start off (reserved), but by the time they’re completing the program, they’re ready to hit the ground running.”

The program also provides Soldiers and staff at the dental clinics the opportunity to train and mentor candidates. The two-fold approach develops staff instruction ability and helps them revisit procedures and policies as they instruct. Having the extra hands on deck also increases readiness at the dental clinics by opening windows to extra training for Soldiers.

“Everybody is on the same team and everybody helps each other out,” Holmes said. “It’s Army taking care of its family.”

For more information, contact the American Red Cross at 742-2483.