Rooted in Care RIDE Program Boosts Rural Dental Health


A RIDE student studies in the Eastern Washington University simulation lab. (Photo courtesy of RIDE)

Since elementary school, Rafael Urrutia Camargo remembers going to the doctor with his parents and trying his best to translate communications from medical providers from English to Spanish for the family.

“This is the main motivation [in my career] -Sometimes things get lost [in] Translator, it's better to have someone who can have a more personal connection with the patient,” he said.

When Urrutia Camargo stumbled upon the Regional Initiative for Dental Education (RIDE) program offered at the University of Washington School of Dentistry (UWSOD), he knew it was the right fit. Currently, in his first year, he plans to practice dentistry somewhere near the orchard town of Monitor, Washington, his hometown near Wenatchee in the rural north-central part of the state.

“I do see myself returning to the community and working in a community clinic to help fill the void of a lack of culturally competent Hispanic dentists. [and] speak and write language,” he said.

Support area population
Individuals in rural communities face many barriers to accessing oral care, including financial issues, lack of insurance coverage, provider shortages, and difficulty accessing transportation services, according to the 2023 report Still Searching: Meeting Oral Health Needs in Rural Areas by the nonprofit Organized by CareQuest Oral Health Institute.

Research shows that 67% of rural areas lack dental health professionals. Additionally, 40% of adults in these communities have not received professional dental care in more than a year, and 34% rate their oral health as fair or poor, higher than those who live in urban and suburban areas 9 %.

To address this issue, the RIDE program is creating a network of providers dedicated to working in rural and underserved communities. Inspired by the University of Washington School of Medicine's successful regional medical education program in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) region, RIDE was designed to train dental students in the region.

“People come from rural areas, go to the city to be trained as dentists, doctors, nurses or pharmacists, and then stay in the city [that city] is a worldwide problem,” said Frank Roberts, DDS, PhD, associate professor, RIDE director and UWSOD associate dean for regional affairs. “[We’re working on] How to actually bring people back [to rural communities]. We've been really, really successful so far.

State funding was first earmarked for the program in 2007, and the first RIDE students graduated in 2012. .

The RIDE Class of 2024 is currently undergoing clinic rotations and will
Graduation in June 2024.

Due to strong demand, leaders secured $2.5 million in additional funding this year to double the number of participants and expand clinical options in western Washington. RIDE will enroll 64 students each year.

Roberts said many RIDE participants are Hispanic, Latino and Native American and come from farm working communities. There are many benefits to having providers reflect the patient population. The bottom line, however, he said, is that when individuals feel understood by their healthcare providers, they are more likely to seek dental care.

“As dentists, a lot of what we do is drill holes and fill them, or remove teeth that are causing problems, but it’s better to prevent them. [complications],” He said. “[This requires] Good communication and trust with patients, [which] give them [the] Support taking care of yourself.

Improve skills
RIDE students begin the program with orientation and introductory courses. During their first year, they travel to Eastern Washington University's (EWU) Spokane campus, where they take courses with EWU faculty and stay connected through UWSOD's virtual learning.

First-year RIDE students learn remotely at East
Washington University. (Photo courtesy of RIDE)

The summer after their first year, students complete a four-week rotation at an affiliated community health center in central or eastern Washington state. They spend their second and third years at UWSOD in Seattle and participate in internship and comprehensive care clinical training models. In their fourth year, they return to the community health center to continue developing clinical and professional skills.

RIDE is advancing a number of goals, one of which is to ensure participants have leadership expertise so they can improve health care in their practice. This includes participation in local, state and national policy.

In addition, Roberts said, students should be comfortable treating patients from diverse backgrounds. One UWSOD initiative that advances this goal is the Dental Education for Disability Care (DECOD) program, established in 1974. Concern about treating adults and children with disabilities.

Programs such as DECOD and RIDE can serve as models for higher education institutions, governments and institutions around the world. In addition to working with the American Dental Education Association to help develop rural service rotation models nationwide, UWSOD leaders are also talking with international groups about how to address provider shortages in their communities, Roberts said.

“yes [addressing] Look at this problem from many different angles [finding] Best practice in all areas to support students and dentists pursuing practice in rural areas as a lifelong career,” he said.

Jared Ortiz, who is currently in his fourth year in the program, said his RIDE journey has been integral. Although he has lived in the Seattle area his entire life, he was inspired to join after learning about the area as an undergraduate student, hoping to apply his dedication to community outreach and bilingual skills to a Spanish-speaking area.

Throughout the program, he felt supported not only by his teachers, but also by two provider mentors. He urged students pursuing healthcare careers to seize the opportunity to explore rural practice.



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