The trip from Suzanne Saunders' home in Prescott to Midwestern University's Glendale Campus takes two hours. But for Suzanne, the hours spent in the car are worth the inconvenience because of what lies at the end of her trip.
For the past two years, her destination has been the Midwestern University Dental Institute. Suzanne was the first patient to walk through the doors at the clinic when it opened in 2010, and during that time she received much of her dental care from College of Dental Medicine-Arizona (CDMA) students Michael Backer and Jonathan Barnes.
She is making that trip again on May 31st, when Michael and Jon walk across the stage in the University Auditorium to receive their Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degrees as members of CDMA's inaugural graduating class. After two years of intensive dental care which required the extraction of 27 teeth, Suzanne considers the two students as surrogate sons.
"Jon and Michael have just been really, really good," she says. "You go in to have 27 teeth pulled, and it's a scary day even if you aren't normally afraid at the dentist's office. They were both right by my side, consoling me, telling me it's all going to be OK."
Third- and fourth-year CDMA students incorporate patient care at the Dental Institute into their learning process. Working in concert with experienced faculty practitioners, students provide services ranging from simple cleanings to prosthetic dentistry to root canals. Michael and Jon, working with Midwestern University faculty including Alexander Carroll, D.D.S., and Gregory Schuster, D.D.S., shepherded Suzanne through a trying two years of intense care, and their skill and compassion, paired with the way they allowed her a "backstage" look at her own treatments, has made her an enthusiastic convert to student-provided healthcare.
"At the Midwestern University Dental Institute you get to be an active part of your process," Suzanne explains, flashing her now-immaculate smile. "You get to learn and the students get to learn. It becomes a team effort where everyone is working for the same goal. You feel invested in your own healthcare."
The result of this team focus on dental care is that CDMA graduates enter the healthcare workforce not only with critical technical skills, but also with a dedicated patient-centric philosophy built on first-hand experience. Additionally, by the time they graduate, CDMA students have accrued hundreds of hours of community service, including various outreach for children. Since only 57% of Arizona children regularly visit the dentist and 65% of kids between 11 and 13 years of age have experienced tooth decay, these efforts take on an increased significance.
Of the 110 new dentists from the College of Dental Medicine-Arizona's Class of 2012, 12 will proceed to dental residencies, while 10 are bound for military destinations and nine will move into the public health sector. The rest of the graduates have already begun the process of investigating opportunities for private practice.
The College of Dental Medicine-Arizona (CDMA) commencement ceremony is the first of five graduations scheduled for this spring and summer at Midwestern University's Glendale Campus. Two ceremonies honoring graduates from the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM) and selected programs from the College of Health Sciences (CHS-AZ) take place on June 1st; the College of Pharmacy-Glendale (CPG) commencement takes place on June 22nd; and a second CHS commencement is scheduled for August 24th.