The distances in Alaska are vast. Even when they’re not neighboring communities are often cut off from one another during the winter as waterways freeze over requiring snow vehicles where once a boat would do. DHATs are meant to bridge the gap of yearly visits from itinerant dentists by living in these communities where they were raised and understand the culture. Many DHAT providers have a service region that extends beyond the base community where they live. Neighboring communities can add 80 more residents here, 100 more there, sometimes doubling their patient load above the base community. Even short distances require complex travel, usually by plane, to provide proper oral healthcare services to those who would not otherwise benefit.
Marian PetlaBased in New Stuyahok
Employed by Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation
“I am from New Stuyahok in the Southwest region, 50 air miles from Dillingham. Grew up and lived in New Stuyahok for 20 years. I moved to Dillingham because there was no work in the village. It was hard to make the decision, as I knew the people very well in the village. I would go home every weekend – but through time I was able to adapt to living in Dillingham. I started taking part-time classes at the campus there, and decided I wanted to continue my education. I was always interested in dentistry, but didn’t know if there was a job for that in New Stu. One of my friends sent me an email about the DHAT program. I thought great — I will still be working with kids, I’ll get to go home – and I’ll get to work in dentistry! What I like most about being a DHAT is giving back to the people – helping everyone I know – the families. One of the biggest things for me is being able to go back and give back.”