Contributed by Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers
Counties in southwestern Wisconsin are seeing the effects of severe shortages in the dental health workforce in the region.
Shortages of dentists and dental hygienists cause delays of months or years and sometimes no access at all to important oral healthcare, an important component of overall health.
A key to addressing the workforce challenges is helping rural high school students understand area job opportunities and pathways to various careers, from jobs that require no college training to those that require professional degrees.
In partnership with Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers and Western Technical College, Scenic Rivers Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) sponsored Oral Health Careers Exploration Day on Oct. 25. Seventeen students from five high schools in the region gathered at Scenic Bluffs in Cashton to learn about careers through hands-on activities and conversations with dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and others.
This event was possible through AHEC’s collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Scenic Bluffs provided space and activities for the event as part of ongoing efforts to partner with area schools and develop the rural healthcare workforce.
The Oral Health Careers Exploration Day initiative aims to address workforce shortage in oral health careers in the region as well as across Wisconsin. According to the 2022 Wisconsin Dentist Workforce Report from WI DHS (www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p03204.pdf), Wisconsin has a lower-than-average overall supply of dentists, with nearly 30% of the workforce leaving in the next five years. Dental professional shortages are seen across the majority of Wisconsin (www.ruralhealthinfo.org/charts/9?state=WI), with 45 of 72 counties designated as a dental-care shortage area, and 17 additional counties experiencing shortages in part of the county.
Research shows that students from rural areas are far more likely to become rural-serving professionals. Scenic Bluffs aims to be a training institution for students in the region. With an integrative care model, training is provided for students across a variety of health fields, including medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, interpreting, and health information management, among others.
To learn more about health careers in Wisconsin, visit www.wihealthcareers.org/explore-careers. For programs available through Scenic Rivers AHEC, visit www.scenicriversahec.org.
Nonprofit and community-based, Scenic Bluffs provides primary care and healthcare access services for patients in the region. Scenic Bluffs has health centers in Cashton, Norwalk and La Crosse. For more information on services provided by Scenic Bluffs, visit www.scenicbluffs.org or call (608) 654-5100.