FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 25, 2017) -- Juanita Sanchez has wanted to take the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Class at a military base for 20 years. That wish is now being fulfilled.
She is one-of-four volunteers in the intensive six-month course here at Mosier and Bull dental clinics. The free ARC class has not been offered at Lee in many years. Sanchez expects to finish in December and has a goal of becoming a dentist or dental hygienist.
“When I was in Bamberg, Germany, in 1997, I could not take the class because I was still learning English,” she said. “I knew German, but that was not enough. I was upset, of course, and I said to myself, ‘one day, one day’ I will take the class.”
Though the ensuing years, Sanchez had several children and moved with her Army husband to different bases in the U.S. While her English proficiency improved, she found the course was not offered at these locations.
“I always admired people with nice, straight teeth, and I took care of my teeth all these years,” she said. “I want to help people take care of their teeth as a career.”
Her dream came true in April when she read a Red Cross flyer announcing training would be offered here soon. She called ARC, got the application package, filled it out and was accepted after going through interviews.
Sanchez noted, “I jumped like a little girl when I got the call that I was accepted into the class.”
The new ARC/Lee Dental Command course is offered as the result of a call to the Fort Lee Red Cross by Col. Michael Hemker, comprehensive dentist, Mosier Dental Clinic.
“I started teaching this program 20 years ago in Bamberg,” said Hemker who helped develop the program for the Army. “Then, I taught it again 10 years ago in Amsbach, Germany. I have trained about 50-60 people to become dental assistants through the years.”
He noted, “It’s a win-win for dental assistants and for the dental clinic. We train them and they volunteer for 600 clinic hours. This helps provide us with extra dental assistants. A dentist can work two chairs more efficiently with the assistance volunteers provide. And they can be supervised and learn their skills at a good pace.”
When the call came into her office in January, Christy Carneal, ARC Service to the Armed Forces volunteer program coordinator, was ecstatic.
“I was familiar with the program and have had a lot of inquiries whether it was offered here since I arrived here in 2010. After talking with Col. Hemker, I dropped everything I was doing, and we set up meetings to get it started,” said Carneal.
Fort Lee had offered the program in the 1990s, but it had been discontinued until the dental clinic was expanded to support the course.
The training involves 80 hours of classroom instruction over 10 days, three days a week and 600 hours – 24 per week, – in the clinic for the remainder of the six months.
“It would cost between $1200-1,600 at an outside institution,” she said. “The participants are Red Cross volunteers.”
The ARC, she said, has other volunteers in the medical facilities on-post and is familiar with all processes and procedures. One of them is a dental assistant who took the class at a previous installation years ago.
“We had meetings for a couple of months to get all the details ironed out. We were able to pull it together and move quickly because of the colonel’s background in teaching for so many years.”
Applications went out in March and the class began in May. They will complete their training in December.
Carneal and Hemker expect a new class to begin in September. A request for applications went out Tuesday and can be picked up at the ARC office on the installation, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. The office is next to the post office on Mahone Avenue. The completed applications should be returned to ARC by Sept. 6. An orientation session for all applicants is scheduled for Sept. 11 and interviews will be held with each candidate Sept. 12-13 by a full panel including Hemker, other dentists and representatives from ARC. Those accepted will be notified Sept. 14. The class starts Sept. 18.
The class is open to all Fort Lee military ID cardholders who are 18 or older with a high school diploma/GED equivalent, and are able to pass the mandatory background check. The only costs for the participants are the text book and $55 course supply fee.
“This is a big-time commitment,” Carneal emphasized, “but one of the cool things is we are the only military base in Virginia at this time that offers this Red Cross dental assistant program,” she said.
Hemker said, “Military dependents can obtain a training program and learn a skill for just the cost of the book. By taking the course here, they work with 10 different doctors in two different clinics. They learn different styles of dentistry and disciplines – oral surgery, root canal and assisting those kind of procedures. They will receive a very thorough dental education.”
He continued “We want the community to know this opportunity is available and grow the program by starting a new class every six months.”
When the class ends, the graduates become certified dental assistants by the Red Cross. They can continue to volunteer here, apply for jobs that might open up at the two clinics or seek employment outside the base.
Hemker said he hopes to have 6-8 students in the next class. “My goal is to have two classes a year.”
Carneal said she has witnessed interest in the program over the past six months. “We believe as we get more classes, we will continue to build excitement,” she added.
Sanchez looks forward to completing the training. “My first step is to finish the class and become a dental assistant. And, if all goes well, I want to continue my education and become a dentist or dental hygienist.
“I want to be an example for my kids,” she said. “I have told my kids to never give up and always have hope.”