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LifeLong’s Dental Externship One Year Later

Blog Contribution: LifeLong Medical Care

The dental extern program at LifeLong Medical Care just wrapped up its first year, saying goodbye to its sixth cohort of dental students from Howard University.

Left to right: Vaishnavi Iyer, Israa Mohamed, Ashleigh Bellamy, and Marissa Dopson

The program, initiated by Dr. Miriam Parker, LifeLong’s Chief Dental Officer, offers robust training in community dentistry. The benefits, she says, are “multifactorial.” Of course, the Howard externs acquire new skills, but the program has also reinvigorated the dentists who serve as preceptors.

“It’s been good for the team,” Dr. Parker says.

Her hope in starting the program is that the experience entices the young students to return to LifeLong after graduation. “If you mentor them, you hope that you can keep one every now and then who wants to stay in our program.”

“One of the struggles that we have here at LifeLong is getting quality providers who understand and are sensitive to the dynamics of our patient population,” Dr. Parker says. The program is also a step toward better representation of people of color in Bay Area dentistry. Ninety-eight percent of Howard students are members of racial minorities.

People do these programs to increase their value in the marketplace – Dr. Parker

Starting a program from scratch can be daunting, but Dr. Parker has previous experience developing an externship at another health center.

“We really needed to build our providers into being preceptors,” she says. LifeLong dentists also began doing more complex procedures, such as root canals and crown and bridge work.

“You want students to leave your externship much more highly skilled,” she says. “People do these programs to increase their value in the marketplace, and that means you have to be doing more complex procedures.”

In August, the dean of Howard’s program announced that the university is recognizing LifeLong as a minor CODA (Committee on Dental Accreditation) site. That means that procedures students do with LifeLong faculty now earn them credits toward graduation.

“Now they will get credit for the work that they do, which then makes them even more excited for the experience,” she says.

The program, funded by a $275,000 grant from Delta Dental, continues in January 2024, and five more cohorts of up to five students each are expected through next year.

The cohort that just completed their program — Vaishnavi Iyer, Israa Mohamed, Ashleigh Bellamy, and Marissa Dopson – rotated through LifeLong’s four dental care departments, including Berkeley Dental Care. Cumulatively, the dental students cared for about 400 patients during their time with LifeLong. Many said they had learned new modalities here that they had never been exposed to before.

Each of the women noted that at LifeLong they had more exposure to pediatric patients than they had had previously. The externs also expressed how welcomed they felt by the staff at each health center.

During their stay, Ashleigh Bellamy and Marissa Dopson were invited to meet with the General Practice Residency Program directors and Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Program at Highland Hospital. Both are applying to their programs for 2024-2025.

Dr. Parker notes that many of the externs who rotated though the program felt a connection to the Bay Area’s international vibe. She’s hoping at least some liked it enough to return for good.

You can learn more about LifeLong Medical Care HERE