March 12, 2010
By Bev Fast
Since 2007, the College of Dentistry has been quietly participating in a joint field clinic pilot project with the National School of Dental Therapy to place dentistry students in rural and remote settings. It is a community-based outreach effort that targets populations facing access-to-care barriers and oral health disparities.
“We believe these field clinic experiences enhance our students’ clinical and cultural competencies by providing them with enriched clinical and life experiences outside of the more urban and southern dental clinic settings,” says Dr. Gerry Uswak, dean of dentistry.
Uswak is a firm believer in taking dental care into the community, particularly into rural, remote and First Nation communities. “When I was in dental school I was fortunate to have had a field clinic experience in the Northwest Territories. It changed my view of dentistry and put me on the path to dental public health.”
Uswak came to the U of S as an associate professor in community dentistry in 2005. He soon set about rekindling the college’s outreach efforts. While the dental teaching clinic on campus provides service to the community, statistics show that the vast majority of people with dental disease have access problems. Since they cannot come to the college, the college is sending students to them.
Now in its fourth year, the joint field clinic program is unique in North America. “It is an example of a made-in-Saskatchewan solution to improving the oral health of a community, while providing students with enriched social and clinical experiences,” Uswak says. “The students also gain a sense of what it is to work in an inter-professional dental team environment.”
There are four field clinic sites: Sandy Bay and Cumberland House in northern Saskatchewan, Rankin Inlet in Nunavut and Rae-Edzo in the Northwest Territories. U of S dentistry students are placed in Sandy Bay and Cumberland House. The clinics run for six weeks in February and March. Uswak and Dr. Alan Kilistoff, assistant dean of clinical affairs, each spend three weeks providing onsite supervision in Sandy Bay, while their National School of Dental Therapy counterparts provide supervision at Cumberland House.
Fourth-year dentistry students volunteer for two-week placements, with two students at each site. During that time, Uswak says they see more patients with more types of dental disease and do more clinical treatment than they would in months back at the college clinic.
Eric Granberg recently completed a two-week placement in Sandy Bay. “The best thing was seeing my years of education and training manifest into good results that help people. I had one lady come in with large decayed areas on her front teeth that you could see when she smiled. I spent a morning restoring her teeth and she was so happy with the way she looked she came back the next day with a big smile and thanked me.”
This year, 12 of 28 U of S fourth-year students are participating in the field clinic. In future, Uswak hopes all senior students will be able to take part. The project is self-funded, meaning the college covers the cost of everything from the initial investment in equipment (about $20,000), to transportation and accommodation of students and supervisors in the two communities (about $25,000 per year).
“It’s money well spent,” Uswak says. “The joint field clinic is a chance for students to experience life in a different community, to see different patients and to build cultural competence. It helps us build better dental students while increasing our service to the community.”
Bev Fast is a Saskatoon freelance writer.