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UB dental clinic in county health mall offers students valuable experience

Ribbon-cutting at Erie County Health Mall

UB Dental Dean Michael Glick (third from left) helps cut the ribbon on the new Erie County Healthl Mall with health commissioner Gale Burstein (center) and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz (to Burstein's left). Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By SARA SALDI

Published May 8, 2014

Residents of an East Side Buffalo neighborhood who have been without a local source for primary or dental care since 2009 now have both, thanks to services being provided in the new Erie County Health Mall (ECHM).

The mall’s dental clinic, which is being run by the UB School of Dental Medicine, not only offers dental students the opportunity to gain hands-on clinical experience, but also has provided students with valuable experience in learning how to set up a dental practice.

The mall, located in the former Matt Gajewski Clinic at 1500 Broadway, officially opened on May 2 with a ribbon-cutting attended by UB dental school Dean Michael Glick, DMD; Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz; county health commissioner Gale Burstein; and top executives of Catholic Health, Lake Shore Behavioral Health and Mid-Erie Counseling and Treatment Services.

Glick spoke at the ribbon-cutting about the importance of having a dental home within a medical facility that also offered primary care and mental health services — for the patients being served and for the UB dental students who would get first-hand knowledge and experience about opening a dental practice in a community facility.

“We are proud of our collaboration in the ECMH,” said Glick. “It also gave us an opportunity to have our dental students participate in creating and executing a business plan for this dental office.”

Joe Kerr and UB dental students who helped draw up business plan for clinic in Erie County Health Mall

Joe Kerr (left), dentist Whynn Hoang (fourth from left) and dental students JoAnna Pufnock, Kara Tress, Hoda Hai, Richard Ross, Joshua McPhee and Robert Atwell. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Joseph Kerr, associate dean for administration in the dental school, explained how UB became involved in the ECMH and how students were engaged in the project.

Kerr said the county approached the dental school about becoming part of the health mall. Once the school decided to make the investment, Kerr had the idea of taking a model he participated in during high school to get dental students involved in the clinic and help them learn practice management skills.

“I remembered the Junior Achievement (JA) high school-based model that gave students business knowledge and hands-on experience forming and operating their own company, with mentorship from community business leaders and teachers,” said Kerr.

“We (he and his fellow high school students) would create business plans, marketing plans and budgets, and produce and sell products — everything you need to make a business work. Then at the end, we would liquidate our holdings and give the returns to the stockholders who had purchased dollar stocks.”

Kerr thought the JA model would work well with the dental students. He asked second-year students if they would be interested in developing a dental practice — creating a business plan and a marketing plan, working with building plans and collaborating with the other professionals who also would be occupying the ECHM.

A number of students wanted to be involved. Kerr said they decided to elect six of their peers to act as key participants/representatives and be the contacts for decisions made regarding the dental clinic in the health mall.

The 43 students who competed in the election wrote a short statement explaining why they should have the opportunity. Members of the second-year class elected Robert Atwell, Hoda Hai, Josh McPhee, Joanna Pufnock, Kara Tress and Richard Ross to be on the project team; Tress was elected project manager.

And the process of educating students about how to open a dental practice began.

Kerr taught the project team members, as well as 19 other interested students, about finance and accounting, and project management, and brought in a financial consultant to talk about how to value a dental practice. The students developed project and marketing plans, a business plan, certificate of need, a budget, policies and a list of clinic services to offered with the assistance of dental school faculty and staff. 

The result — after many months of hard work by the students in addition to their courseloads and clinical obligations — was a state-of-the-art dental clinic with six operatories, an X-ray/radiology room, a lab, a conference room, a receptionist’s area and a waiting room.

Hoangcam Nguyen, DDS, was appointed dental director; Karen Spates was named the dental assistant; and Karen Miles the business office manager.

Project team member Ross said dental students will play an integral role in facilitating patient care in the clinic

“Participation in this venture will allow for students to become well-rounded prior to graduation,” he said.

“Our early involvement in the planning process has taught us about the business side of opening a dental practice. Our clinical experience with the patients will help us to provide optimal treatment that focuses on oral care in a community dental facility. These experiences combined will add breadth, depth and value to our education,” he said.

UB Dental expects to see its first patients at the ECMH in June. While scheduled appointments will be available, the clinic will also accept “walk-ins.”