Last year, as part of the Memorandum of Understanding between WSDA and Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA), the two organizations launched a Workforce Taskforce to identify and implement impactful solutions to the workforce shortage.
Dental practices and community clinics across the state continue to struggle with hygienist and assistant vacancies. Last year, as part of the Memorandum of Understanding between WSDA and Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA), the two organizations launched a Workforce Taskforce to identify and implement impactful solutions to the workforce shortage. The Taskforce is co-chaired by Seattle-based WSDA Past President Dr. Chris Delecki and Spokane-based DDWA Director Dr. Katie Hakes.
“Expanding the number of hygiene and dental assisting graduates is essential to addressing the great need for preventive care in our state,” Dr. Hakes said. “Many dental practices and community clinics remain challenged to fill open positions, which postpones care and can exacerbate oral health issues.”
The majority of hygienists in Washington state are trained within community and technical colleges. The Taskforce has partnered with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to help remove barriers to these programs with the goal of expanding and broadening the array of prospective students. Hygiene programs are costly to run yet are in high demand. Currently there is no mechanism to support programs needing equipment upgrades or modest infrastructure improvements. Large-scale capital projects take multiple years to receive state approval and funding. The Taskforce has submitted a budget request to the legislature to fund the SBCTC to develop a set of recommendations to address these challenges and increase state support for these programs.
DDWA SUPPORTING DENTAL PROGRAM EXPANSION
In late January, the DDWA Board of Directors approved funding to support Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) to launch a new strategic plan for its dental programs.
Under new dental leadership, LWTech’s comprehensive plan aims to provide innovative dental education with a strong commitment to community engagement, diversity, and inclusion. The school will receive $834,807 to replace eight chairs and minor equipment within its restorative clinic and four chairs within its hygiene clinic. Additionally, LWTech will fund 12 new hygiene chairs for a total of 16. The equipment upgrade will enable LWTech to launch a re-vamped Dental Assistant program and an evening BAS in Dental Hygiene in 2023. The two-quarter DA program will offer asynchronous coursework and evening clinical training to appeal to working students. Two cohorts per year will graduate up to 36 DAs in 2023 and up to 48 DAs the following year with a Certificate of Completion. The evening Hygiene program will start with 16 students and grow to match the class size of the day-program, which currently is 30.
This program will also partner with the onsite Washington Network for Innovative Careers (WANIC) DA program to provide the opportunity for an additional 24 high school students to have access to hands-on clinical training within the LWTech restorative clinic, preparing them for direct entry into employment upon high school graduation.
LWTech is also seeking state funding to further expand its dental programs. If all goes as planned, the expansion will eventually enable 40 hygienists to graduate from the day program annually, and 40 from the evening program every other year.
Dental practices interested in partnering with LWTech for externships should contact Associate Dean of Dental Programs Kellie Whitcomb at Kellie.Whitcomb@lwtech.edu.
INCREASING DIVERSITY IN THE DENTAL FIELD
Expanding the dental workforce is also an opportunity to increase diversity within the field.
“Expanding diversity within the dental professions is central to our goals,” Dr. Delecki said. “Increased student diversity is associated with graduates being better prepared to care for diverse patient populations and also improves equitable access to care.”
The Taskforce is collaborating with school districts across the state to promote the dental professions, with an emphasis on reaching Black, Indigenous, and other youth of Color.
The Workforce Taskforce looks forward to providing additional updates on these important topics in future publications. If you would like to learn more, please contact WSDA Executive Director Bracken Killpack at firstname.lastname@example.org
or DDWA Chief Mission Officer Diane Oakes at email@example.com
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of the WSDA News.