Rural Rotations Making a Difference

OHSU School of Dentistry’s Class of 2015 began their community rotations in earnest beginning June 23. About two-thirds of the class will provide patient care this summer at about 30 sites in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Alaska, with one student in Oklahoma.

“This class is very assertive and they wanted to take advantage of the longer break this year (due to academic scheduling for the move to South Waterfront) to meet their graduation requirement, gain experience in the community, and give back to underserved communities,” said Jill Mason, M.P.H., R.D.H., associate professor of periodontology and community dentistry, and director of the rotations. “They all signed up early for their community experience, and I suspect a number of them will more than meet their two-week graduation requirement.”

OHSU dental students have long provided care to medically-compromised, uninsured, and underinsured patients at Russell Street Clinic in north Portland. The community rotation program piloted in 2009 expanded upon that community effort, bringing dental students into other parts of the state, particularly rural areas.

Over the past five years, the community rotation program has grown incredibly, with a particular focus on increasing community health sites, and dental students are now required to provide care in the community for a minimum of two weeks. In 2009-2010, when community rotations were an elective, 30 students provided care at 12 sites for 112 weeks, compared to 2013-2014 with 72 students providing care at 30 sites for a total of 186 weeks. 

Many dental students now exceed the two-week community rotation graduation requirement. Of the 72 doctor of dental medicine graduates in 2014, 17, or 24 percent, completed three to six weeks of community service throughout Oregon, and in Washington and Montana.

“Dental students consistently tell us that the community experience is one of the highlights of dental school,” said Jill.  “They can see patients at a dental office pace which really helps them test their skills outside the clinic, and gives them added confidence when they graduate.” 

This summer, four new rotation sites were added, said Diane Sullivan, rotation coordinator in central administration, including Bellingham, Wash., Missoula, Mont., and Ontario, Ore. One student is in Wewoka, Oklahoma, an externship offered through the Indian Health Service.

Compared to five years ago, many students now opt for public health when they graduate from dental school. Initial counts for the Class of 2014 indicated that five students were pursuing public health after graduation.

“The neat backstory on community rotations is that many of our graduates decide after working in the community to go into public health,” said Jill. “Many are now preceptors at the sites where they did their own community rotation, and they are welcoming our students to their sites.  At La Clinica del Valle in Medford , 10 of the 11 dentists are OHSU graduates, and all of the OHSU dentists have graduated since 2009 when we began piloting community rotations.

“The students really love getting out there and it’s been exciting to see.”