Dickinson High School’s academy model exposes students to various career fields early through guest speakers and job shadowing. As they progress in their high school years, they can choose a broad career category to explore, such as health careers.

The students in teacher Bobbie Johnson’s health careers classes are exposed to various careers in the health field, including radiology, nursing, dermatology and dentistry.

Griffin Obrigewitch, a senior at DHS, was one of those students. The class helped him decide to pursue dentistry.

“The second semester of sophomore year, I took Health Careers I and that’s probably when I (decided),” Obrigewitch said. “I always kind of thought I wanted to do something in the medical field, something to help people. Last year, as a junior, I took Health Careers II and that’s the class where we get to go and job shadow. In the first quarter of that ...I was able to shadow a dentist. In Health Careers I, a couple of dentists came to talk to us in class.”

When he heard about the school’s new dental assisting program, he jumped at the opportunity to participate.

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“I thought it would be a great way to get experience,” Obrigewitch said, “to learn not only the teeth and mouth anatomy but also the tools so if I’m able to make it to dental school, I’ll have a step ahead not only in the skills but also references, and (it’s) something to put on my resume.”

The dental assisting program is the first of its kind in the nation, providing certification through the Dental Assisting National Board, or DANB.

Obrigewitch is one of three students currently in the two-year program. Since he is a senior, Obrigewitch will need to finish the program during the summer.

“We go about four or five hours a week as of now … That’s like the internship or clinical side of it. The coursework is aimed toward getting the DANB tests finished. There’s three of them that you need to take,” he said.

Once he gets that certification, he plans to work as a dental assistant at High Plains as he works on his undergraduate degree at Dickinson State University.

Evan Lubken, a sophomore at DHS, also wants to be a dentist. He plans to attend college in Fargo before coming back to Dickinson to work.

He finds the coursework for the program difficult, but doable.

“I think it’s definitely harder, but it’s not something that we can’t handle. I feel like there’s more motivation to do the work because it’s going to help you out when you’re done with high school,” Lubken said.

Mckenzie Swisher, a junior at DHS who is also in the program, wants to be a dental hygienist like her aunt. When she’s finished with the program, she hopes to attend college in Moorehead then practice in Dickinson.

The program helps both students and the community in that it helps train students for fields in need of workers.

Bobbie Johnson, R.N., is a health science teacher at Dickinson High.

“The idea is when they’re done, they’ll have what’s called NELDA (National Entry Level Dental Assistant) certification, which is through DANB and then they’ll qualify through North Dakota dental examiner laws to become a qualified dental assistant,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there’s a shortage of dental assistants in the area that these students could help fill.

“It tends to be where the students that graduate from Wahpeton, they stay on the east side of the state. We really don’t have any schools out here that train for dental assisting or dental hygiene, and North Dakota doesn’t have a dental school, so they have to go out of state to become dentists,” Johnson said.

Dr. Maria “Duffy” Meyer of High Plains Dental helped get the program off the ground, recruiting two other area dentists, Dr.Shannon Galster of Dickinson Dental Center and Dr. Samuel Sticka at Sticka Dental Clinic, to take students on as interns.

At those clinics, the students job shadow and get hands-on training.

“They’ll teach them how to set up a room, break a room down, how sterilization works, and then they’ll teach them how to assist for a filling or other procedures that the dentist does,” Johnson said.

They’ve also volunteered with the sealant program at Prairie Rose, Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary Schools with Dr. Duffy.

The dental assisting program is part of the school’s new academy model, which helps students learn about and experiment with different careers.

“I think it’s really cool because it’s something you’re actually going to use in the future. I feel like kids will be more into their school work if it’s actually going to help them out when they’re done with high school,” Lubken said.