Senior VCU Dental Student
Thursday October 22, 2015
Submitted by Joy Felegie
Introduction: The David H. Lawson Foundation co-sponsored a dental externship at the Northern Virginia Training Center for a senior dental student from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. This is a unique externship opportunity in that 100% of the patients treated have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.
What sparked your interest in participating in a dental externship at NVTC?
Being interested in serving individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) as a developing oral healthcare professional, I have interacted with NVTC staff at various regional and national professional meetings and I have been very impressed by their proactivity in pursing continued improvement of care provision (oral and otherwise) to their clients. I knew I wanted the chance to see such a clinical system at work in person as well as be immersed in hands-on clinical dentistry for individuals with IDD.
Prior to this experience, what exposure have you had in treating patients with severe to profound IDD?
Engaging with professional organizations whose goal is to support healthcare providers in serving the IDD population, I have a working framework for the challenges these individuals have with accessing care and maintaining health. Being involved with regional organizations in hosting provider training in IDD dentistry, I have had experience with providing oral hygiene instruction to clients and care givers as well as assisting with dental care provision. I have also had the honor of treating a patient of record at VCU School of Dentistry who has a mild intellectual disability. Despite these piece-meal experiences, I have not had the opportunity to treat patients with profound intellectual disability in a focused and specialized setting such as NVTC.
How is VCU addressing the need to prepare dental students to serve the disabled community?
VCU incorporates special needs dentistry content into its practice management and medical emergencies/patient management courses. The Special Care Interest Group, a dental school student club, offers students the time and space to further pursue their interest in developing the skills to serve the IDD population. Notifying students of opportunities like this externship with NVTC and facilitating their placement for such assignments is another way that VCU prepares a dental workforce equipped to serve the disabled community.
Has this externship changed your perspective on the dental needs to this population and how dental professionals can make a significant impact? If so, how?
I came to the externship with awareness about the oral health disparities that exist for the IDD population and the importance of primary care and direct support staff collaboration with oral healthcare professionals in addressing the oral health needs of the IDD population. New insights that I have gained include the great diversity of oral health needs (type of pathology and severity) and the diverse manifestation of etiologies that might be considered in working to prevent oral disease development/progression. The value and efficacy of collaborative provision of care (wit primary care and direct support professionals) is unmistakably demonstrated at NVTC.
What has been the highlight of your externship experience?
Interacting with a compassionate and committed staff has definitely been the highlight of my experience. The care with which each client is served despite various challenges inspires me to continue advocating for and developing my ability to serve the IDD population.
What will you take with you and apply as you begin your private practice?
The perseverance with which NVTC adapts oral heathcare services to meet each individual’s oral health needs will encourage me to seek out opportunities to make incorporating service to patients with IDD in my practice a reality. Keys to successfully doing so that have been demonstrated at NVTC include recruiting an engaged staff, obtaining the necessary training/certifications to competently treat the unique needs of the IDD population, and establishing strong collaborative relationships with primary care and direct support professionals.
This will be the last dental externship that will occur at NVTC due to NVTC’s closing. Please share about the value of this externship and what you have learned as a result of it.
Sitting in on the nurses’ daily report and shadowing during primary care visits even while being mainly engaged in the dental clinic, I celebrate the successfully established health home within which each individual’s needs are met comprehensively. I lament that the infrastructure of this collaborative model will be discontinued with the closure of NVTC and am brought to acknowledge the complex social/political context within which healthcare delivery to the IDD population has occurred in the past and the changes that will continue in the future of IDD healthcare. Observing dental care delivery within this strong interdisciplinary network encourages me to seek out similar cooperative settings through which to provide IDD patients safe and competent oral healthcare services.
Is there anything you would like to say as we close the interview?
I would like to extend my sincere appreciation for the welcome that I’ve experienced by staff and clients in arranging and undergoing the externship! It has been an honor to experience and contribute to the high quality services provided to the clients served at NVTC. I am grateful for the organizations that understand the value of extending such opportunities to developing clinicians and have supported my presence at NVTC financially.