DHLF Funds Dental Externship For Senior Virginia Commonwealth University Dental Student

An interview with Ethan Puryear, Dental Student

Virginia Commonwealth University

Made possible through grant funds from the Amerigroup Foundation, the David H. Lawson Foundation was able to host a dental externship for Virginia Commonwealth University student, Ethan Puryear. Ethan agreed to share his thoughts about his recent experience at the Northern Virginia Training Center, during September 2013.  This unique opportunity provided Ethan with three weeks of practical experience in providing dental treatment to patients with severe-profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. Continue reading to learn more about Ethan’s experience!

Question:  What was it that sparked your interest in applying for this externship opportunity?

Ethan:  I was particularly interested in this externship because prior to dental school, I worked for the YMCA in their youth programs.  We had participants with special needs and I really enjoyed working with the population.  I want to keep this population in mind when I begin my dental practice.

Question:  How much exposure did you have to people with intellectual disabilities prior to this externship experience?

Ethan: We had participants with Autism and Down syndrome at the YMCA but they were high functioning.  Seeing patients with the level of functioning of those treated at NVTC is a new experience for me.  At the VCU dental school we recently started to see some patients with severe-profound intellectual disabilities on a screening basis.

Question:  This is the beginning of your third week of your externship experience.  How would you describe the difference in your personal knowledge and understanding of the unique needs and challenges of patients with intellectual disabilities, as compared to your first day of the externship?

Ethan:  There certainly is a change in my comfort level.  The dentistry is not necessarily different but the patient management component is different.  For instance, I learned about adaptive equipment to use with this population and that there may be situations where it is indicated to tolerate some common behaviors of the patient and continue treatment.

Question:  The David H. Lawson Foundation wants to promote access to dental services for people with intellectual disabilities by helping to provide unique education opportunities for dentists to become more knowledgeable, comfortable and skilled in treating people with intellectual disabilities.

Would you share with us how this externship may have impacted your awareness of this critical need?

Ethan:  We were told in dental school that there is a huge need for dentists to treat adults with special needs.  The most impressionable thing about the externship was to really experience how much care some folks really need on an individual basis.  The individuals’ need dental treatment on a more frequent basis then the dentists are able to provide.  There was one case where a patient came from a town several hours away because they needed the sedation dentistry services provided at NVTC and could not find another location to receive these services closer to home.

Question:  Would you share your thoughts with us about the value of this program?

Ethan:  As a student, there are no other opportunities like this.  I received three weeks of seeing four to five patients a day with special needs.  I got a feel for what was common or not common.  I was immersed in treating patients with special needs.

Question:  Is there a highlight of your experience so far, that you would like to share?

Ethan:  It is hard to pinpoint one but certainly there were a lot of interesting and powerful cases.

Question:  Do you have any comments you would like to make as we close our interview?

Ethan:  The experience overall was great!  Everyone was welcoming and willing to help.  It was a unique experience to be exposed to this population.  I don’t think this kind of experience is common and it was great to have this opportunity.


Ethan Puryear from VCUThank you Ethan!