Alumni Spotlight: Main Street Graduates
The lobby of Main Street Dental is bustling with activity on a Thursday afternoon. Patients and their families wait quietly on the comfy sofas next to the coffee maker; one patient has just emerged from his appointment with a mouthful of gauze; a small boy watches an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants on the lobby TV while playing with toys provided for the young patrons like himself. The dental office, located in Montevideo, MN is clearly doing well. In 2015, it moved from a few blocks away into this newly renovated office space. And today it houses three dentists and 20 employees. But this story isn’t about the office expansion, which is exciting in its own right. More intriguing is that of the 23 total employees, six of them, or over ¼ of the entire staff, are graduates of the Minnesota West Dental Assisting program on the Canby Campus. And while they have all performed patient care in their roles, they do much more, from working at the front desk to processing insurance claims to managing the office itself. Additionally, each has forged her own career path in getting to where she is today.
FIrst in Minnesota
Brandi Tweeter is a 1997 Minnesota West Dental Assistant graduate and one of the first Dental Therapists in Minnesota. Brandi worked for 12 years as a dental assistant at Main Street Dental before diving back into college coursework. In 2009, while continuing to work as a dental assistant, she completed her bachelor’s degree at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN. Then, two years later in 2011, she received her master’s degree from the University of Minnesota as part of the inaugural class of Dental Therapists in the state of Minnesota. “A dental therapist is kind of like a PA (physician’s assistant) at a medical clinic,” says Brandi. Although she cannot perform root canals or advanced surgeries like dentists can do, she can perform many of the routine prevention and treatment services that patients require such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns, and even extracting teeth in certain cases.
Twelve years of dental assisting experience prior to graduate school made a big difference in Brandi’s studies. “Much of the first year of my master’s program was review, as I had already done much of what was being taught,” and she quickly found that her classmates leaned on her during their clinical experiences in the program. While the rest of her graduating class took jobs in public practice, such as public clinics and community health centers, Tweeter became the first dental therapist in the state of Minnesota to work in a private practice. She returned to Main Street Dental, and today is one of three dental therapists in the office, who, as part of their licensure requirements, provide dental care to underinsured and underserved populations.
The Value of On the Job Training
Three of the most recent graduates at the dental office landed at Main Street Dental via their externship experience. All students of the Minnesota West Dental Assistant program must undertake two, six-week clinic experiences toward the end of their studies. The externship program requires students to work at a dental office under the supervision of the dentist. Although unpaid, the externship provides invaluable experiences for students, and in many cases job prospects after graduation. Abi Belaen (class of 2014), Shawna Berg (Class of 2015), and Ariel Stone (class of 2015) all credit their employment to their externship experience. Each individual came to dental assisting by a different route - Ariel originally planned to pursue Nursing; Abi was originally an Elementary Education major at a four-year school; and Shawna was “always interested” in dental assisting. However, they all agreed that the variety of work and the value of helping others continue to provide them satisfaction in their careers.