Eastern Washington's dental health gets a lift from RIDE
Instead of coasting toward graduation last spring, Kaitlin Poppe had a better plan: serving at-risk patients.
Poppe, who received her D.D.S. from UW in June, spent the spring at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Nob Hill clinic in Yakima in a clinical rotation for the Regional Initiatives in Dental Education program. RIDE students also fan out to rotations at community clinics in Colville, Moses Lake, Spokane, Lake Spokane, Wenatchee, Othello and Okanogan.
“Every day I was treating someone who otherwise would not receive care. Every day I knew I was making a difference in someone's life, and I don't think there is anything more rewarding than that,” Dr. Poppe said.
Built with the help of Eastern Washington University’s dental hygiene program, RIDE was created to improve access to dental care in rural and underserved areas of the state, especially in eastern Washington.
“I have always been aware of the need for community dentistry, but was not aware of the extent of the need,” Poppe said. “We had patients who drove from hundreds of miles away to be seen at our clinic because we are the only ones who will see them. I always thought access-to-care problems were due to geography, but now realize that it is much more than that.”
The clinics where the RIDE students worked generally see a high proportion of patients who live below the poverty line, are on Medicaid or have no insurance. A significant number are children.
“The RIDE program is one of the great ways to increase access for low-income and Medicaid-insured children and adults,” said Dr. Bruce Wilcox, the dental director at Columbia Valley Community Health in Wenatchee, Wash. “The rotations are certainly a win for the students, but also for us and our patients.”
“Patients’ response to the RIDE students has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Dr. Ryan Busk, dental director at the Family Health Centers Dental Clinic in Okanogan, Wash. “The most commonly heard expression is, ‘Yes, I would love to work with the student. Everyone has to learn sometime.’ ”
This year marked the second group of students to graduate from the RIDE program. Students spend their first year at the Riverpoint campus in Spokane, a joint venture of Washington State University and Eastern Washington University. They study alongside medical and dental hygiene students and use the latest distance-learning technology.
“RIDE Is a terrific example of collaboration among public universities to address community needs – in this case, for dental care,” said Dr. Wendy Mouradian, associate dean of regional affairs and RIDE. “RIDE has also partnered with the private dental community, especially the Spokane District Dental Society, as well as public health clinics. All the medical and dental students at Riverpoint gain a great deal from their mutual association, including a better understanding of the patient’s overall health outside their own discipline.”
RIDE students spend their second and third years with their other dental classmates at the UW in Seattle, and then spend the spring of their fourth year at one of several eastern Washington community health centers. They also participate in an earlier summer clinical rotation.
“We believe that when our students spend extended periods of time in these communities, work with local providers and get to know the residents, they’re much more likely to want to settle there and practice,” Mouradian said.
That’s how Dr. Eric Nygard sees it after completing his rotation at the Lake Spokane Community Health Center. “This is a fascinating community, one that my wife and I have discussed moving back to,” he said. “The people in this community are very supportive of each other.”
After receiving his D.D.S., Nygard began a dental anesthesia residency at Loma Linda University in Southern California, but he wants to return when this training is completed.
“After this residency, I plan to move to eastern Washington to serve the communities there as a dentist and dental anesthesiologist, largely serving pediatric and special-needs populations,” he said. “My rotation has influenced my thinking about community dentistry, because I can see that some populations would otherwise not receive comprehensive dental care without access to community dental clinics.”