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CVTC students brush up on skills in new dental simulation lab

Grant funding expands college’s capabilities via high-tech manikins

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May 27, 2024

EAU CLAIRE – After years of hope – and on the eve of her retirement – Pam Entorf said she’s “super excited” to see Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) get the dental simulation lab of her dreams.

“This has been a long-range goal and dream for a long time,” Entorf said. “It feels good to have it come to fruition.”

Entorf is the program director for dental hygiene and dental assisting, as well as one of the instructors for the expanded function dental auxiliary (EFDA) program at CVTC.

She said she’s been working with Delta Dental – a company known for providing funding for dental education – over “the last four or five years” when the Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation awarded a grant to CVTC.

The grant, Entorf said, facilitates the expansion of the college’s dental programs – regarding both its technological capabilities and its enrollment capacity – by providing students with state-of-the-art manikins to simulate patients.

Right-hand manikins

The college celebrated the new Delta Dental of Wisconsin Dental Simulation Lab at the end of last month with an open house event, complete with the cutting of a ribbon resembling dental floss.

The lab, Entorf said, was renovated from a former computer lab into a simulation center equipped with 15 simulation stations – each of which has a cost of $18,000.

“Delta Dental came through with just under $600,000 and sponsored the entire thing,” she said. “All the hand pieces that go with it, the curing light ­– it’s a beautiful setup.”

Entorf said the lab’s manikins are “the most current version” available, with lifelike features to best prepare first-semester students for the real patient work they begin in their second semesters and beyond.

“We’re the first (college) in the state to have that – that is up and running,” she said.

Pam Entorf said the lab’s manikins are “the most current version” available, complete with lifelike features. Photo Courtesy of CVTC

Entorf said students from all over the state have been drawn to CVTC due to the numerous benefits of the manikins, which she said are equivalent to “training wheels” for aspiring dental care workers.

“When you think of the mouth, that’s a small area – and you have to have strategic placement of your hand, holding a tiny, sharp instrument and not doing any trauma,” she said. “(Students know) ‘I can make my mistakes on this manikin before I ever go to a person, and that way I can learn.’”

Entorf said the manikins also remove the potential variables human patients can present – including whether or not a patient will be difficult, or even be present when a student is testing.

“The stress was on the students to find that perfect patient and hope that patient was going to show up that day – because if they don’t show up, you were still out $1,035 (in testing fees) and you’d fail,” she said. “Now that they’ve moved to a manikin, it’s a done deal.”

The manikins, Entorf said, also help to standardize the testing, creating more fairness for students.

“Before, I could have a tough patient and my classmate could have an easy patient, yet I’d be tested the same way,” she said.

Another benefit the manikins have afforded students, Entorf said, is the ability to retake a test free of charge and within an hour – which was not the case with the former human patient-based testing.

“You couldn’t (re)take it that same weekend – and you had to pay another $500 or $600,” she said. “Now, you get two attempts with no additional charge, so if you fail the first time, you go again on another manikin, and typically you’ll pass. You either had ‘butterflies’ or you learned from your mistake, but there’s no additional fee.”

Simulated care, genuine impact

Beyond reducing the pressure of testing students, Entorf said, the new simulation lab has helped to reduce the waitlist of students who are accepted into CVTC’s dental programs.

“You’re limited by the number of students each faculty (member) can have in a clinic setting,” she said. “In dental hygiene, it’s a one-to-five (instructor-to-student) clinical ratio – so you have to have enough space and chairs and patients for that population of students.” 

CVTC’s ability to teach more dental students, Entorf said, in turn, helps to address an industry-wide shortage of dental care workers – which she said Delta Dental is seeking to alleviate with grants like the one CVTC received for the lab.

“Delta is amazing,” she said. “They’ve been a great partner of ours for a long time.”

Entorf said Delta Dental has previously sponsored equipment, scholarships and charity events for CVTC, including Give Kids a Smile and Give Veterans a Smile.

Entorf said the college’s dental clinic – which serves low-income and Medicaid patients at a discounted rate – has also received sponsorship from Delta. 

The clinic’s staff includes CVTC dental program students, an aspect of their education.

The new simulation lab, Pam Entorf said, has helped reduce the waitlist of students who are accepted into CVTC’s dental programs. Photo Courtesy of CVTC

With more students in the programs as a result of the lab, Entorf said the clinic can better serve its patients.

She said in its first 20 years of operation, the clinic has already served 140,000 patients – many of whom she said would not have otherwise received dental care.

Alyssa Van Duyse, content strategist and media relations at CVTC, said the clinic and simulation lab service will stand as testaments to Entorf’s legacy while leaving “really big shoes to fill.”

“We are going to be losing someone who has fought for dental care in West Central Wisconsin in those rural areas, for people who would not have had access,” Van Duyse said. “(Entorf) is a beloved instructor and program director at CVTC.” 

Facilitating and instructing countless dental care workers, Entorf said, has made for a career she’s been “super passionate” about.

“I feel fortunate,” she said. “This has been a dream job. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s partnerships, partnership building and fighting for care. In the process of our education, people get care. If we didn’t have patients, (our students) wouldn’t get educated – so I think it’s a win-win for everybody.” 

Entorf said she’s found peace with retiring due to her faith in her successors, as well as the realization of the simulation lab.

“I’m grateful to Delta Dental, and I’m grateful to CVTC’s leadership for believing we can do this,” she said. “If that was halfway (completed), I would not have retired yet. I feel like I’ve achieved what I wanted, and I’ve left the college in a better place and able to carry on.”

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