Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program graduates 8 students

By Eve BakerOctober 3, 2022

Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program graduates 8 students
Fort Wainwright held a graduation ceremony Saturday for eight students who graduated from the Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program, which began May 2. From left are Capt. Emer Bajuelos, program coordinator for the Kamish Clinic; Gabrielle Rubenstein, Red Cross Alaska board member; Maureen Wacholtz; Jacquelynn Silva; Sonya Granados-Aguirre; Keyshla Marie Matos Velázquez; Madalynn Grace Portwood; Heather Goodridge-Woods; Brianna Cady; and Col. Nate Surrey, Fort Wainwright garrison commander. Not pictured is graduate Celysha N. Theodore, who participated virtually. (photo by Taylar Sausen) (Photo Credit: Eve Baker) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort Wainwright – On Saturday, eight new graduates accepted their certificates from the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Training Program during a graduation ceremony held at the North Haven Community Center on Fort Wainwright.

The program is an intensive, no-cost career skills program for military dependents and veterans ages 18 and up, and it is offered at numerous military installations around the country. By the end of the course, students are qualified to serve as dental assistants in any military or civilian dental clinic.

“The American Red Cross has a long-standing history of supporting our military communities through a variety of programs and services. The Dental Assistant Training Program spring 2022 cohort has been the largest and most successful class to date. We are excited for the program's success and look forward to beginning a new cohort at the turn of the year,” said Melody Hanson, Alaska regional program manager in the Service to the Armed Forces branch of the Red Cross.

Over the course of the program, students received 720 hours of instruction and chair-side training from the Dental Activity Alaska staff at Kamish Dental Clinic on Fort Wainwright, and each student further committed an additional 40 hours of volunteer time. Examples of some training topics included throughout the program are cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and basic life support, x-ray set-up, patient charting, sterilization, patient safety, general dentistry, orthodontics, dental instruments, front desk and reception duties and more.

When asked why she applied for the program, graduate Jackie Silva said, “I have always been interested in the dental field but life took a different path, and I became a stay-at-home mom for many years. My kids are now school aged, and when I saw this opportunity I realized it wasn’t too late for me to get started in my career of choice.”

The primary coordinator for the program was Capt. Emer Bajuelos, a general dentist at the clinic who was grateful for the students’ participation, despite the extra work it brought her.

“Running the program was a lot of work, but it was kind of like an investment. They helped us a lot. In Alaska, we struggle to find people and are very short-staffed. The students were very motivated and helpful around the clinic and with extracurricular activities, like an organization day and our participation in the Golden Days Parade,” Bajuelos said. “They became part of the team and really helped morale.”

Program applicants went through an extensive multi-interview and background screening process prior to program participation, and nine of 30 applicants were offered acceptance into the spring 2022 program that began May 2. One was not able to complete the program due to a military permanent change of station move in the middle of the course.

Graduate Madalynn Grace Portwood was enthusiastic about the opportunity, saying, “I decided to participate in this program because I knew that it was an opportunity that couldn’t be wasted. It was free education and hands on training for a job that is in high demand. Also, as a military spouse with dental assisting as your line of work, it will go with you anywhere you are stationed!”

Graduates received a certificate of completion and congratulatory letter from Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, and the top three received a Red Cross scholarship to test for radiology safety certification, making them eligible for a higher level of employment.

The spring 2022 graduating class consisted of six spouses of active duty service members, one Gold Star surviving spouse, and one active-duty spouse who is also a veteran.

Though the program does not guarantee job placement, this year’s class has been successful in that respect. Four have accepted local job offers, three have upcoming local interviews, and one is in the application process for a job at her spouse’s next duty location.

Silva and Portwood are two of the participants who have already secured employment. Silva is now working at Four Corners Dental Group, and Portwood is working at Fairbanks Dental Center.

“I was able to finish my clinical hours early and started applying independently. I was able to land a job fairly quickly and will say I love it so far!” Portwood said.

Another course will be starting in a few months, with the application process starting soon. Those who are interested in applying should visit the Red Cross website for Alaska at the following link:

The graduating students from the spring 2022 class are as follows: Brianna Cady, Heather Goodridge-Woods, Madalynn Grace Portwood, Sonya Granados-Aguirre, Keyshla Marie Matos Velázquez, Jacquelynn Silva, Celysha N. Theodore, and Maureen Wacholtz.