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Summer Student Practitioner Program: Giving dental students the opportunity of a lifetime

Generous support from donors allowed fourth-year UBC Dentistry student Grace Moore to gain clinical experience by practicing in rural and remote BC communities.

Grace Moore always knew she wanted to work in healthcare but it was an unexpected opportunity that got her interested in dentistry. While doing her undergraduate degree at UBCO, a friend asked her to help out volunteering at a dental clinic and within the week Grace was hooked—dentistry was the perfect combination of science, creativity and helping people. A native of Red Deer, Alberta, Grace was accepted into several dentistry programs and chose UBC largely because of its Summer Student Practitioner Program (SSPP).

The SSPP launched in 1982 and gives incoming fourth year students the opportunity to practice dentistry within approved competencies, for up to seven weeks in any city across BC. Participants receive a temporary license and are paired with a practicing dentist, allowing them to experience the day-to-day operation and management of dental practice. The program is also intended to encourage students to work in more rural communities. It is primarily funded by three major donors—Pacific Dental Conference Trust, CDSPI (a non-profit offering insurance and investment solutions to dentists) and Synergy Business Lawyers—as well as several other donors who have given generously throughout the years. Donor support provides summer travel and living expenses for students with placements outside of Metro Vancouver.

The program was on hiatus during the pandemic but returned this year—44 students did placements with 88 dentists across BC, with a total of 127 SSPP contracts signed. Grace spent three weeks in Vernon followed by four weeks in Sparwood, a small town outside of Fernie. She also spent three days in Elkford working in an emergency room, doing dental work on pediatric patients and patients with complex medical needs.

“All of my placements gave me the opportunity to learn about time management and patient communication, as well as hands-on skills,” says Grace. “Getting in the repetitions and having one-on-one mentorship is so beneficial. I gained so much confidence by participating in this program.”

During her second placement, Grace was mentored by UBC dentistry alum Dr. Kenneth Choi at the Sparwood Dental Clinic. Dr. Choi also participated in the SSPP when he was in school and jumped at the chance to give back.

“Having Grace here for the summer was great for both of us—I was able to watch her work and give her pointers throughout the day,” says Dr. Choi. “There were tips and tricks that took me years to learn on the job that I was able to share with her, which I think was really valuable for her. Having a young mind around was also motivational for me, and I learned a few things from Grace. I graduated 12 years ago so there’s always something new to learn.”

Growing up in Vancouver, Dr. Choi’s SSPP placement in Prince George changed the course of his life. He always expected to stay in Vancouver, but found he loved the pace of being in a smaller city. He moved to Sparwood after graduating and has been practicing in this small community ever since.

Grace can relate. Her placements this summer opened her eyes to the possibility of practicing in a more rural location, and she is interested in moving back to Vernon or Sparwood following graduation. She’s also looking into the possibility of doing fly-in dentistry in remote Indigenous communities.

“This experience wouldn’t have been possible without the support of donors, and I can’t say thank you enough to them,” says Grace. “Starting my fourth year of school after my summer placements, I noticed such a huge difference in my confidence and approach. I feel a lot more confident in my judgement and skills thanks to the experience I got this summer which was truly priceless.”

You can support UBC Dentistry students like Grace by giving them the opportunity to participate in the Summer Student Practitioner Program

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Grace Moore with a patient at the UBC Faculty of Dentistry