Collaborating for Outreach at Hibbing Community College Dental Clinic
On a sunny day in mid-June, Amy Ahnefeld brings her two children into the Hibbing Community College Dental Clinic for oral health care. A single mother to Finn and Hannah, she knows what is important to her: community, efficiency and excellence in care. She gets all those things and more at Hibbing—and that is why she has continued to return for nine years.
Founded in 2001 as a partnership between the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State College, the Hibbing Community College Dental Clinic serves more than 2,000 patients per year from eight counties in Minnesota. Often a space for patients on Medicaid or without insurance, the clinic functions as an outreach site for School of Dentistry students in their final year of studies.
Ahnefeld did not intentionally seek out a clinic where she and her children would see students—but when she moved from Chicago to the small town of Virginia, Minnesota, she found herself limited by her options and facing long delays to have her children seen. Based on a recommendation from a friend, she gave Hibbing a try.
“After that first visit, we’ve been here ever since,” she said. In fact, Ahnefeld even chose to seek out her own dental care at the clinic, along with her children. “They have become my dental family. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.”
For Ahnefeld, the empathetic and comforting care she and her children receive reassures her that she is in the right place—and the quality of that care has proven to be excellent. “These students are at their most professional, paying the most critical attention to every detail, because they’re preparing to go out into the professional world,” she said. “That actually gave me extra confidence.” Ahnefeld also knows that every procedure is double- and triple-checked by adjunct clinical faculty and John Zupancic, DDS, the clinic’s director.
On this particular day, Ahnefeld is in the clinic for her daughter Hannah’s first tooth extraction. Hannah and her mom are nervous, but confident—and they feel comforted by the way their clinicians walk them through every step of the process.
Hannah is seen by Alexi Wenzel, BSDH ’14, RDH, DDS ’22, as she completes her outreach experience as a requirement for graduation. Wenzel appreciates the opportunity to work with children on a case she likely would not see back at school. “On outreach, I get to use skills that I learned in school, but working with a community I don’t normally see on a daily basis at the school,” she explained. “It showed me more about the need for dental care, and it gave me more time for one-on-one interaction with my faculty that I might not get at school.”
Wenzel especially appreciates that interaction as she prepares to administer Anesthesia to Hannah, and she can rely on the advice of Rachel Buchert, DDS ’16, an adjunct faculty member and School of Dentistry alumna who works in the clinic once per month in addition to her role co-owning a private practice with her husband.
“My job is to check in and make sure that the students are doing what they should do, and that it’s appropriate treatment,” explained Buchert, whose experience in corporate, private and community dentistry make her an excellent teacher for students looking for a variety of experiences. She appreciates the ability to watch students grow and support them in the process while introducing them to a new kind of dentistry. “It pushes them to look at this time as clinic, and not as school,” she explained. “They can offer the patient care and really prepare for when they graduate and start seeing patients on their own.”
Buchert also appreciates the way Hibbing opens up care to a broader population. “It is phenomenal to have access to care for patients that can’t otherwise get that care without traveling long distances,” she said. The fact that the care is excellent simply adds to that benefit.
At the end of the day, Hannah emerges with one less tooth and with a smile on her face. Though the procedure was not easy, it has been completed well, and the Ahnefelds are grateful for Wenzel’s hard work.
“We’re not ever treated like a number or a case here,” Ahnefeld reflected. “The care we get here has been wonderful, and everything that comes next will go a lot smoother because of that comfort. These students are really ready to go out and be dentists.”