On June 3rd two proud Native Alaskans graduated from the Dental Health Aide Therapist (DHAT) program in Anchorage, AK, while seven students were celebrated for transitioning from their didactic to clinical year. This marks the 12th class of graduating DHAT’s in the life of the innovative program. During these early years MEDEX Northwest worked closely with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to provide a pathway to a certificate through the University of Washington. Each student was sponsored by their tribal community, and after graduation returns to that community to provide basic dental services including fillings and preventive care. This is especially needed in remote Native Alaskan communities where itinerant dental workers might pass through once every six months.
Funding for the DHAT program has come, in part, from The Kellogg Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation.
Graduating from the DHAT program were Jaslyn Wren of Iliamna, AK and Summer Lynch of Haines, AK.
Seven current DHAT students were honored for transitioning from didactic to clinical year. Left to right they are Hannah Howard (Kwethluk, AK), Deidre Dayton (Koyukuk, AK), Allison Ayapan (Kwethluk, AK), Dominic Comerate Jr. (Wasilla, AK), Shonna Wheeler (King Cove, AK), Naomi Petri (Coos Bay, OR), and Tiffany George (Galena, AK).
The new DHAT graduates—Jaslyn and Summer—are at the left while the transitioning DHAT students look on from the right.
MEDEX Program Director Terry Scott assists transitioning DHAT student Deidre Dayton into her whitecoat, a symbol of her move from the didactic phase of her medical education to the clinical.
Dr. Mary Willard, D.D.S., addresses the new graduates, transitioning students and their families during the June 3rd ceremony in Anchorage, AK. Dr. Willard is director of the DHAT program in Alaska.
Dr. Mary Willard presents Summer Lynch with her certificate for completing the ANTHC Dental Health Aide Therapist Program.
Dr. Mary Willard presents Jaslyn Wren with her certificate for completing the ANTHC Dental Health Aide Therapist Program.
Each of the seven transition DHAT students were presented with a certificate from the University of Washington for completing their didactic year. Going forward all incoming students will be able to receive college credit for their didactic year from Iḷisaġvik College, Alaska’s only Tribal College.
All the DHAT students are selected by their sponsoring tribal communities to participate in the program with the agreement that, upon graduation, they will return to practice in their community of origin.
For the first time one of the transitioning students was from outside Alaska, sponsored by the Coos Bay Nation of Oregon.
This year’s graduation event marked another milestone in the DHAT program. It was jointly announced that the DHAT program will move its academic home to Alaska in 2017, thereby ending it formal association with MEDEX and the University of Washington. For all incoming classes the didactic year of study will come under Iḷisaġvik College, Alaska’s only Tribal College.
The advantages of this move are clear. The DHAT Program will now award an Associate Degree as well as a certificate. And while certificate the represents a milestone of achievement for students—marking the halfway point to degree completion—students will now for the first time be eligible to apply for student financial aid for the training.
Three members of the MEDEX Seattle faculty and senior staff traveled to Anchorage to attend the June 3rd DHAT graduation ceremony. Program Director Terry Scott, Director of Academic Affairs Susan Symington and Administrator Donna Lewin were present to participate in the handoff from UW to Iḷisaġvik College. Also on hand was Denise Coslett, Anchorage Didactic Site Coordinator, who teaches anatomy and physiology to the first year DHAT students.
“The handoff between the University of Washington MEDEX program and Iḷisaġvik College was one that felt like when your kids grew up and leave home, like proud parents,” says Terry Scott. “It’s time. Everything is well prepared to stand on its own with another partnership. But you also recognize it’s a little bittersweet. All of us involved are convinced it’s the right move. These students need opportunities to be able to get college credit for the work they’ve put in, and hopefully move on towards a bachelor’s degree, perhaps even further.”
Right from the start MEDEX saw the parallels between the physician assistant profession and Dental Health Aide Therapists, and was able to offer the initial support. Seeing the Dental Health Aide Therapy program transition to a degree-based program is the obvious next step in the development of this fledgling profession.