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August 9, 2012
By Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Troth

CAMP CASEY, South Korea -- For most volunteers in Korea, when they return to the states they will have the satisfaction of knowing they helped others in their community and may have been formally recognized for it.

But, for three Area I volunteers, they will take with them a new-found skill set they can use the rest of their lives.

They have just completed the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Education Program at the Camp Casey Dental Clinic Aug. 3. In January, when the clinic announced that they were offering the program for a second time more than 40 volunteers applied. Six were chosen and only three successfully completed the 100 hours of classroom study and the minimum 500 hours of clinical work.

"During their past six months of volunteering, they have worked hard," said Dr. (Capt.) Francis Nahm, a dentist at the clinic and the education program director.

"It was a lot of information combined into a few weeks," said Jessica Medlin, one of the three graduates who had almost 550 volunteer hours in the clinic. "It was kind of nerve racking having to go home and study and try to remember all of this information that they have given you. But it ended up being very easy by how they taught it."

Their first two weeks in the program are spent immersed in classes on basic anatomy, medical terminology and health care ethics, as well as general dentistry and dentistry instrument layouts.

"In the 100 hours they have to learn, memorize and understand the physiology and bio chemistry of the body," said Nahm. "Then they move onto dental, the oral facial area, then they go to the teeth and then the gum. There is a lot of terminology, just terminology after terminology for them to learn."

"When we first started the class I didn't know how I was going to remember it all, but they showed us diagrams of the teeth and other stuff and eventually it just clicked," said Cimone Langley-Hopkins, who had been studying criminology at California State University, Fresno, prior to coming to Korea. She thought that this program could help in the forensic field if teeth impressions were needed to identify a criminal.

"It was a good thing having the doctors as our instructors, because this is their job and they know everything," said Langley-Hopkins, whose husband, Pfc. Alexander Hopkins is in Company C, 3rd Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Fires Brigade. "Anytime we didn't understand something in the book they would take us into the operatory and show us there."

Once the volunteers passed the classroom final exam they moved to the operatory, for the observation portion of the program. During this time they watched the actions of and assisted an already qualified dental assistant. Once the doctors were satisfied with the volunteers' work, they became the primary assistant and participated in everything from dental exams to oral surgery.

"Although they are volunteers, they are considered part of our team," said Nahm. He said that since the volunteers are not pulled from the clinic for other tasks as military dental assistants are, the clinic is able to continue to see patients, which is a benefit for the clinic and Area I.

The benefits for the volunteer students are numerous. One is the cost. The Camp Casey program is free; a similar program taught at a civilian facility would cost $6,000 to $8,000 according to Nahm. Another benefit for them is the certificate they received upon completion of the program.

"When they finish we validate their total hours with the Red Cross," said Nahm. "That certificate is honored as a dental assistant certificate and is transferable to a civilian certificate."

Medlin, Langley-Hopkins and Hui Gibbs (who graduated early when her husband who was a contractor left Korea) are looking forward to getting jobs in a dental clinic when they return stateside.

Medlin knows that having the specialized skills of a dental assistant will give her job opportunities when she follows her husband, Pfc. Daniel Medlin, of Company B, 304th Signal Battalion, to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., this fall. While in Arizona she plans on getting an associate degree in health care management so that one day she can be a clinic's head dental assistant.

"I still want to pursue my degree in the criminal justice field," said Langley-Hopkins, who finished the program with over 600 volunteer hours. "But for right now the career path that I have decided to take is in the dental field."