If you’ve ever received dental care in a village clinic, there’s a chance your care was provided by a DHAT, or Dental Health Aide Therapist. In the words of Savannah Bonorden, a current DHAT student from Sitka at Yuut Elitnaurviat in Bethel, a DHAT is “basically a physician’s assistant in the dental field–they work in a certain scope of practice.” Currently at Yuut Elitnaurviat, there are four students training in the DHAT program, including two students sponsored by the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), one student sponsored by the Norton Sound Health Corporation and one student sponsored by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC).
Each of the four students has a different story of how they ended up in the program, but they are all working to improve the dental health of Alaskans. Elsie Pelowook from Savoonga joined the program after the long-standing DHAT in Savoonga left. “I saw the need for dental care,” says Pelowook, who is planning to head back home and practice as a DHAT for the Saint Lawrence Island villages of Gambell and Savoonga. Pelowook has served as a health aide for nearly 17 years and is excited to provide patient care again. Pelowook’s education in the DHAT program is sponsored by the Norton Sound Health Corporation.
Cora Roberts, from Hoonah, is sponsored by SEARHC and plans to return home to help with the dental health of her community. Roberts has enjoyed seeing patients and has enjoyed helping others through the program. When asked her thoughts on the program, Roberts said, “It’s a great program… I’m very pleased to be a part of it.”
Savannah Bonorden, the other DHAT student sponsored by SEARHC, is from Sitka and plans to return home after completing the program. “I’ve enjoyed meeting people from all over the state… with my instructors and my classmates from different parts of Alaska.” Bonorden was an assistant to a DHAT in Sitka. “It’s a very rewarding position to be in,” says Bonorden, when asked about her interest in the program.
Melanie Kerschner, the only student sponsored by YKHC, is originally from Pennsylvania and has lived in Hooper Bay for the past two years. Kerschner says she has enjoyed the education from instructors from “all over the place.” She also spoke of using anesthesia for the first time, “I asked the patient if they felt the little mosquito bite and they didn’t. It made me feel proud.” Kerschner, after completion of the program, will live and work in one of YKHC’s villages, as part of the contractual arrangement to receive the scholarship for the duration of the DHAT training.