How your practice can host a dental assisting extern

Has your dental practice ever considered hosting a dental assisting student for an externship? The arrangement will not only benefit the student with hands-on education, it will also give your practice extra assistance.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 06 Dental Assisting Extern 1

Has your dental practice ever considered hosting a dental assisting student for an externship? The arrangement will not only benefit the student with hands-on education, it will also give your practice extra assistance.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. Subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter here.

Does your office host dental assisting students from area schools? Nearly every state has dental offices that host students or are considering hosting students. An externship (also known as an extramural assignment) is a short-term experience that occurs at the beginning or middle of the student’s education. The student gains work experience in addition to being taught new skills.

Upon completion, the student will likely return to college for further education. During an externship no formal compensation is determined and the student isn’t expecting to be considered for a permanent position, although employment opportunities often exist. Is your office collecting all of the information necessary so that students have a successful experience? Most offices are not aware of what important information they should be obtaining when hosting a dental assisting student.

Before hosting a student, the office should speak with the Program Director or Externship Coordinator of the dental assisting school. A conversation will allow you the opportunity to hear the philosophy or culture of the school. What objectives does the supervisor emphasize? Does the school expect the student to “observe and help out,” or do they expect the office to “teach and instruct” the student? Which attitude best fits your dental team? Both create very different experiences for the hosting office and student, so do not be afraid to interview the school!

Once a verbal relationship has been established, your office should request documentation to review. Pay special attention to the terms of the agreement and the duration of the contract. Many dental assisting schools develop an ongoing contract with hosting dental offices, periodically sending students at set times throughout the year. If this is the case with your office, there are some important factors to consider when managing your experiences.

Other schools offer a memorandum of understanding (MOU), similar to a contract that is renewed per student with no established intervals. The office may host annually, biannually, or every other year. Which agreement best fits your practice dynamics? Once you’ve confirmed your terms of agreement, it’s time to prepare your office with necessary documentation. This should include:

• Signed contract or memorandum of understanding (MOU)
• Course syllabus with learning objectives
• Student working schedule with specific date and times
• Evaluation forms completed by staff
• Liability insurance and/or incident plan
• Confirmation of student’s vaccinations (or declination form)
• Copy of CPR and radiology permit (if applicable in your state)

Hosting an extern can be a smart way to maximize office productivity, especially during busy times. If planned carefully, it’s an even better method of recruitment. It’s no surprise that more dental offices are asking dental assisting schools for externship agreements. It is important, however, for the office to obtain the proper paperwork. Most offices do not consider the school’s liability plan or procedures for needlestick injuries until an incident occurs. All schools have a written plan, so make sure your office has an updated copy. Offices sometimes neglect to obtain the proper working documents from a student. For example, your state may require a student radiology permit to be posted if you allow students to conduct radiographic exposures. Consistent with standard emergency management, a copy of the student’s CPR card should be accessible to the hosting office. Confirmation that the school has the student’s Hep B vaccinations (or declination) is another important document that is often overlooked, but is very necessary during an exposure incident.

Whether you’re currently hosting a dental assistant extern or your office is considering the option, it’s important that you investigate the terms of the externship, including the duration and expectations of the school. Schedule a brief conversation with the director, and find out the supervisor’s expectations for the experience. Then request the relevant documents, including the contract or MOU, liability forms, and current working documents.

Hosting a student can be beneficial to your dental office in several ways. The best dental assistants are those who are supported by their community, and the best communities are those who are most informed.


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Darci Barr is an educator and program director in Indianapolis, Indiana, with growing experience in board governance and advisory capacities. As a leader in dental education, she combines philosophies of career and technical education with progressive and innovative curriculum, designing pathways of growth and succession for dental auxiliaries. A firm advocate for continuing education, Darci shares her expertise through authorship of several articles and dental-related works. As continuing service to her communities, she repeatedly demonstrates leadership in fundraising while promoting the good of dental professionals.

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