ADEA CCI Liaison Ledger

Campus Spotlight: Foothill College

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What can students gain from community-based education (CBE)? If you ask Evelyn Joyce Bettencourt, RDH, M.A., she'll say a challenging work environment, exposure to a variety of patients, the chance to work with other health professionals, and opportunities for personal growth.

As the off-campus rotations coordinator for the dental hygiene program at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, Prof. Bettencourt began placing students in public health clinics in Santa Clara County in 2002. A startup grant from The Health Trust got the program rolling, and today the Foothill Commission, a nonprofit that supports initiatives on the Foothill campus, sponsors Foothill's community dental health outreach activities.

The Director of Foothill's dental hygiene program, Phyllis A. Spragge, agrees with Prof. Bettencourt about the benefits of CBE and adds, "The students feel it prepares them well for private practice." Second-year students spend Monday through Thursday in the college clinic, where they may spend three hours or more treating each patient. Most Fridays, they work in community settings at double or triple that pace, treating many more patients.

Although we tend to associate Silicon Valley with wealthy young entrepreneurs, the valley also has its share of low-income residents and the valley's population has areas of rampant tooth decay. Portions of San Jose, for instance, lack fluoridation services, and state budget cuts to county clinics have reduced the availability of oral health services for the area's poorest residents. This reduction in clinic hours translates into fewer chairs available for use by dental hygiene students. To fill the gap, the college has created partnerships with additional clinics in San Mateo County, further diversifying students' patient care experiences. One new partner clinic serves patients with HIV, and another provides charitable services to the most needy.

Students also spend some Fridays at area schools providing oral health education to underserved students. These include developmentally delayed teenagers, who welcome the attention of the dental hygiene students. At the elementary school level, they conduct science experiments that demonstrate the effect of acids on tooth enamel to teach children about tooth decay.

Patti Walter Chan, RDH, M.S., who teaches Foothill's CBE course, came up with the idea for this off-campus experience after she became aware of a need for oral health education in her own children's school. Both Chan and Bettencourt are clinical instructors of long standing in the dental hygiene program, and having outreach coordinators who know the needs of the educational program appears to be one key to the success of CBE at Foothill.

"When our students go to school sites," Prof. Bettencourt says, "Patti is with them. And every Friday, I am on call if a student feels uncomfortable or has an issue. Once a quarter, we sit down with students to reflect on their experiences. We talk about whether or not the clinic is meeting its goals, and discuss any ethical dilemmas they may have faced. The students gain a deep appreciation for access issues in the process."

Foothill and its partner clinics take part in the Silicon Valley Oral Health Collaborative, which the Health Trust initiated a few years back to address the area's unmet needs for care. Prof. Spragge describes the newly forged ties between education and public health as a win for both.

"CBE is shaping our students feelings about serving the community," Prof. Spragge says. "We see our former graduates volunteering in our partner clinics. That is the strongest legacy of the program."

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