February 28, 2024

Partnership opens careers and capacity for dental in Oregon

Funding a training program with Portland Community College addresses critical needs for dental patients.

My Nguyen from Portland, Oregon, returned to dentistry with the support of a Kaiser Permanente-funded program.

My Nguyen was a stay-at-home mom in Portland, Oregon, when she saw a post on her Vietnamese community Facebook group that would help her reconnect to her career in dentistry. She learned that Portland Community College and Kaiser Permanente Dental were recruiting students for the college’s Integrated Community Dental Assisting Program.

What appealed to Nguyen, who had worked as a dental assistant in 2004 while living in California, was the program’s hybrid format. It offered online courses, weekend clinical labs, and professional externships. Students who enrolled in the 9-month program would have their fees covered by sponsors, including Kaiser Permanente Dental.

“I was very excited,” she said. “It was convenient and would allow me to study at home during the week.” Nguyen would spend Saturdays with other students working in a lab, which was a perfect fit for the busy mom.

Partnership addresses critical health care need

Kaiser Permanente Dental was Portland Community College’s founding sponsor for the ICDA program in 2018. The initial program was created in collaboration with the regional service union trust to help qualified employees pursue training for a career in dental.

I love talking with our members and getting to know them. It gives me the opportunity to make sure members at Kaiser Permanente’s Aloha Dental feel welcome and get excellent care.

“The partnership made sense,” said Nichole Wellman, who oversees the program for Kaiser Permanente Dental. Across Oregon there was a growing need for dental assistants and PCC created the ICDA program to address the demand, offering a more flexible schedule for students who cannot attend a traditional 2-year program.

“Kaiser Permanente was experiencing this challenge firsthand,” Wellman said. “In addition, our members come from different backgrounds and communities, and we recognized the importance of recruiting students who are also from diverse backgrounds so we can better serve our members’ needs.”

The program was put on hold when the COVID-19 outbreak hit. With Kaiser Permanente Dental’s support and funding to cover student costs, the program was relaunched in 2021 and is open to anyone interested in becoming a dental assistant.

Training for a range of real-world skills

Dental assistants work in many areas of patient care, including working in the dental lab, assisting dentists, preparing equipment, managing patient records, helping with daily office tasks, and more. They need to have both clinical and administrative skills.

For Nguyen, the type of skills offered by the program were important, and after completing her training she joined the Kaiser Permanente Aloha Dental team in 2023.

“I love talking with our members and getting to know them,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to make sure members at Kaiser Permanente’s Aloha Dental feel welcome and get excellent care.”

To date, 42 students have completed the PCC’s ICDA program. Kaiser Permanente Dental continues to be one of the primary funding partners and provides in-clinic externships and job opportunities for students pursuing a career in dental assisting.

Nguyen credits the ICDA program for helping her get back to work and hopes more people will consider going into the field. “I love the people I work with, and the team is very supportive as I continue to learn,” she said. “Aloha Dental feels like a home, like family.”

In 2024, Kaiser Permanente Dental is celebrating 50 years of providing increasingly integrated dental care in Oregon and southwest Washington, serving more than 287,000 dental members.