TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College has formally partnered with Bay Mills Community College in an effort to increase the number of dental assistants serving northern Michigan, and Native American patients in particular.
In February, NMC and Bay Mills, a tribally-controlled Upper Peninsula community college in Brimley, Mich., signed an articulation agreement that will allow Bay Mills’ students to transfer to NMC’s dental assistant program after their first year. NMC’s yearlong dental assistant curriculum allows them to sit for the state exam to become a registered dental assistant (RDA). NMC Dental Assistant Director Beckie Wooters will make a recruiting visit to Bay Mills on April 17.
Ability to earn RDA licensure is a key advantage of NMC’s program, the furthest north among six accredited dental assistant programs in Michigan. NMC has an outstanding pass rate history, exceeding the state of Michigan’s average in both the clinical and written portion of the exams. Since 2019, at least 96 percent of NMC graduates have passed the clinical portion.
“With a registered dental assistant, a dentist can see about 60 percent more patients. They can do more clinical procedures under the dentist’s supervision,” said Dr. Jessica Rickert, a now-retired Traverse City area dentist who hired NMC graduates in her practice.
Rickert is also the first female Native American dentist in the United States, and remains the only one in Michigan. She now consults with insurer Delta Dental of Michigan and leads Anishinaabe Dental Outreach,whose goal is to improve dental health in Native communities. She saw an opportunity to connect NMC and Bay Mills to better serve the Upper Peninsula, where the shortage of dental professionals is especially acute.
“The scarcity of timely dental care is causing serious hardship,” Rickert said of the U.P. “They have a wonderful program at NMC. Dental assisting is such a great career, and it’s really fulfilling and it’s necessary. Let’s make this happen.”
“Our communities need more dental professionals of any kind. This seems like a really good fit,” agreed Diana McKenzie, dean of science and allied health at Bay Mills, which enrolls about 600 students. About 62 percent are Native American. Among more than 315,000 dental assistants nationwide, Rickert said only 0.7% are American Indian or Alaska Native.
Natalia Chugunov, chair of the Bay Mills science department, said she hopes the partnership can benefit tribal health centers, too.
“We try to help both the community, our college and our students,” she said.
Wooters said the agreement is another way to boost enrollment. NMC’s dental assistant program currently has 13 students, and can accommodate 24. Need is great in the lower peninsula as well, she said.
“We’re not filling the needs for all of the jobs,” said Wooters.
NMC recently invested $52,000 in new equipment for the dental assistant program. It has six fully-functioning patient rooms and some of the latest technology, including an intraoral scanner.
“After earning their associate degree and passing the RDA exam, a dental assistant can expect to begin their career making between $18 and $25 per hour,” Wooters said. A typical work week is only four days, offering flexibility. Job settings include general practice dental offices, pediatric offices, oral surgery and other specialty offices, dental labs and more.
The program has been designed with student convenience in mind. Bay Mills’ students can take their first year of general education requirements entirely online. The second year of in-person dental assistant classes is scheduled in a Tuesday-Thursday block, allowing students to spend most of their week back home in the U.P., if necessary. On-campus housing is also available at NMC.
Rickert said the Michigan Dental Association, the American Dental Association and other sources offer scholarships to students of color.
Release date: MARCH 9, 2023
For more information:
Northwestern Michigan College
Bay Mills Community College
Natalia Chugunov, M.D.
Science Department Chair and Faculty
(906) 248- 8425
NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY NOTICENorthwestern Michigan College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, height, weight, marital status or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions. nmc.edu/non-discrimination