Student discovers allure of rural practice

“I’ve decided after graduating in June that I want to work in a rural area,” says Hameed. “From a dentistry perspective, the opportunities are amazing.” Currently in his fourth year of dentistry, Hameed hails from Baghdad and has lived most of his life in large cities including Vancouver, Toronto and London. However, last summer opened his eyes to new possibilities.

During July 2010, Hameed took part in the Faculty of Dentistry’s Summer Student Practitioner Program (SSPP), which enables students to experience the day-to-day operation and management of a dental practice.

Hameed was matched  with supervisor Dr. Dan Kinkela, the sole dentist in Smithers, a picturesque town of 5,500 in northwestern B.C. During his three-week placement, Hameed had an opportunity to work on fillings and scaling along with more complex procedures such as root canals, crowns and surgeries.

Kinkela’s generous mentoring and well-equipped facility made a convincing case for re-location, says Hameed. “Dan’s office is one of the most advanced I’ve ever seen, even compared to Vancouver. And as a practitioner, Dan believes in continuing education for himself and his staff so they’re very up to date on new procedures.”

Employing 10 staff members, Kinkela’s office has six general dentistry chairs and two orthodontic chairs. Kinkela employs state-of-the-art electrodiagnostic equipment to treat  disorders of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the skull.  As well, his practice offered regular clinics for the public on topics such as sleep apnea and pain control through breathing techniques.

“What I learned in those three weeks easily compares with what I would have learned in three to four years on my own,” says Hameed. “Dan has vast knowledge of clinical dentistry since he does a lot of procedures that general dentists don’t do since the closest specialist is four hours away in Prince George.”

Kinkela also arranged for Hameed to observe work in nearby Hazelton’s Wrinch Memorial Hospital where the dental clinic serves a large Aboriginal population.

Dr. Joanne Walton, associate dean of academic and student affairs, explains that the Faculty of Dentistry partnered with the B.C. Dental Association to focus on SSPP placements in communities beyond B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Kelowna and Greater Victoria.

“Similar to medicine,” says Walton, “there can be problems with access to oral health care in rural areas of B.C. These placements enable students to experience a non-urban environment.”

Established in 1982, the SSPP allows students to build upon their third-year foundation skills while providing a smoother transition from graduation into their own practice.

For participating dentists, the benefits include having a student to help deal with a patient backlog and “test drive” the idea of an associate, even considering whether the student is potentially a good fit for the office, says Walton.

The time is also rich for exchange, she says. “The practitioner can pick their brains about current techniques being taught at UBC, as well as share ideas and philosophies.”

An SSPP participant since 2007, Kinkela says he values the students’ fresh optimism and dedication. “I enjoy sharing my years of practice with someone who’s eager to learn. I can feel the energy go up in the whole office when the students are here.”

An extra pair of hands in the office also ends up benefitting the entire community, says Kinkela.

“I can ask the students to provide treatment for single moms and other families that are unable to afford the kind of dentistry that they need.”

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UBC Reports | Vol. 57 | No. 2 | Feb. 4, 2011

UBC student Marwan Hameed never pictured himself a small-town dentist until he came across a big-city practice in the heart of B.C. Photo: Martin Dee

UBC student Marwan Hameed never pictured himself a small-town dentist until he came across a big-city practice in the heart of B.C. Photo: Martin Dee

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