Pitt Launches Apprenticeship Program to Address Dental Assistant Shortage

Updated on October 8, 2022
people, medicine, stomatology and health care concept - female dentist and assistant with dental curing light and mirror treating male patient teeth at dental clinic office
Jim Earle, Ed.D., M.B.A., executive dean for strategic development and operations at Pitt Dental Medicine
CREDIT: University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine has been awarded state funding to train dental assistants through a paid 14-month apprenticeship program that aims to address the shortage of health care professionals and diversify the dentistry workforce.  

The new program, which is funded through a PAsmart grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, is partnering with Pittsburgh Public Schools to recruit the first cohort of six students, who are expected to start in January 2023. 

“There is an extreme shortage of dental assistants in the United States, including here in our own building, so we were looking for creative solutions to solve this problem,” said Jim Earle, Ed.D., MBA, executive dean for strategic development and operations at Pitt Dental Medicine. “We developed this unique apprenticeship as a pipeline to get high school students into the workforce and equipped with skills that are in high demand.” 

The program will focus on attracting underrepresented minority students from high schools in Allegheny County, as well as surrounding counties of Butler, Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland.

Kelly Wagner, R.D.H., M.S., assistant professor and program director of Pitt Dental Medicine’s Dental Hygiene Program
CREDIT: University of Pittsburgh

“Like many health care professions, dentistry lacks diversity,” said Kelly Wagner, R.D.H., M.S., assistant professor and program director of Pitt Dental Medicine’s Dental Hygiene Program. “As a school, we’re always looking for ways to improve the diversity of our student body, faculty and staff because the more diverse our providers, the better prepared they are to treat our diverse patient population. We think this apprenticeship is a great way to expose minority students to careers in health care.” 

Dental assistants play a critical role in the efficiency and productivity of a dental office. They support dentists by preparing rooms, sterilizing equipment, assisting with procedures, taking radiographs and more. 

“Students will receive both classroom and hands-on clinical training right here at Pitt Dental Medicine,” said Earle. “We will also prepare students to sit for certification exams to become credentialed dental assistants, which will make them very employable.” 

The program will also give students a taste of different dental specialties, including oral surgery, endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics and pediatric dentistry. 

“We have a unique opportunity to give our apprentices experiences in many types of specialty areas we have here at Pitt so that they are prepared to work in these specialty practices when they graduate,” said Wagner. 

Students are paid to complete the apprenticeship, which also covers tuition and exam fees. The program will also help place students in jobs at the Pitt School of Dental Medicine or through the school’s vast alumni network.  

More information about the apprenticeship and instructions to apply are available at the University of Pittsburgh Talent Center.

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