Higher education costs a lot of money, and many people go heavily into debt for it. However, military family members in Baumholder have an opportunity to gain a marketable skill for free, while also giving back to their local community here in Rheinland-Pfalz.
The Dental Assistant Training Program, run jointly by the American Red Cross in Baumholder and the Baumholder Dental Clinic, offers free training for military ID card holders. Prospective students are welcome to apply through the Red Cross, which then chooses candidates for the interview and selection process with the dental clinic. Applicants who are selected are required to complete the Red Cross volunteer intake process before they can start training.
“These volunteers are a crucial component for the dental clinic to operate at its highest capacity and provide necessary health services to the Baumholder Military Community,” said Riley Swanson, regional program specialist for the American Red Cross in Baumholder. “They are an incredibly valuable resource that we are lucky to have.”
Swanson said the training program is six months long and has two components: classroom instruction and clinical chair-side rotations, for a total of 500 hours. Training is provided by the dental clinic, and training slots are available based on the needs of the clinic, which provides all necessary equipment.
“Those selected will receive intense training in all aspects of dental assisting — from dental radiology to dental anatomy, and from sterilizing dental instruments to chair-side clinic time,” Swanson said.
Graduates are eligible to take required state board examinations, enabling them to volunteer or become employed in any other military or civilian dental clinics. Capt. Joo Park, general dentist at the Baumholder Dental Clinic, said that includes entry-level positions in federal service.
“Participants get the benefit of starting a new career that can be continued anywhere you PCS,” Park said. “It’s not always easy to find a job when you PCS around the world, but this program will open up the opportunity to put your foot in a career where there is always a demand.”
Hyojeong Fisher, one of this year’s graduates, was born and raised in South Korea and moved to Germany with her husband Joey in 2018. The training program, she said, was a big opportunity for her.
“As an immigrant, I needed a whole new career to adjust and get along with new people from different cultures,” she said. “As a military spouse, I wanted a career that I can work on any military base with consistency, since I have to move every two to three years.”
Coming from an economics background, Fisher said the training was tough in the beginning.
“Everything related to dental was new to me,” she said. “Even basic words. But it was totally worth it. I was having fun learning new things. I would 100% recommend this program to anyone interested in the dental field. It is very hard work, but so rewarding.”
Fellow graduate and military spouse Samantha Valentine has a degree in interior design, but after moving from Fort Irwin to Baumholder, she said finding a job was difficult.
“I’ve quickly learned how difficult it is for military spouses to land good jobs unless you are trained in a career that can travel with you, or you have a trade that is needed everywhere, even in small towns,” she said.
Although she had always had an interest in the medical field, Valentine had no dental or medical experience. She said the first two weeks of training focused on terminology, anatomy, and procedures of general dentistry, followed by exams and hands-on work.
“This was very accelerated learning, and it requires a lot of studying,” she said. “It’s a lot to absorb at first, but after a couple months, all of the puzzle pieces really come together. The staff at the Baumholder Dental Clinic have been great teachers.”
The program was paused in March due to COVID-19, but Fisher and Valentine were eventually able to resume their training and graduated this month. Both have applied for dental assistant openings at the Baumholder Dental Clinic.
Graduates of the program can find opportunities here in Rheinland-Pfalz at clinics both on and off post.
“There are multiple dental assistant positions available throughout six dental clinics in the Rheinland-Pfalz area,” Park said. “These positions generally require work experience to apply, which we can also offer the graduates to do extra volunteering after completion of the program.”
The program runs once a year from January to June. For volunteers interested in applying for 2021, the application period is Nov. 1-20, with applications due no later than Nov. 20. Interviews will take place in early December, and the program will begin on Jan. 11, 2021.
Military spouses, family members over the age of 18, and military retiree ID cardholders are all welcome to apply. Selectees must provide for their own transportation and childcare needs during training.
Similar volunteer opportunities and training programs are available at other military installations both CONUS and OCONUS. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact their installation’s American Red Cross for more information.