VISTA Streamlines Volunteers through Virtual Clinic Orientation

Samira Picture small
Samira Quasem

Samira Quasem served as a 2015-16 CHC VISTA member with the Metropolitan State University dental clinic. One of her main projects during her service year was the development of a virtual clinic orientation (VCO). Its implementation would simultaneously lessen the burden of time on clinic staff and make the orientation process more efficient. With limited staff and resources, however, this was no small task to complete over the course of a VISTA year. I sat down with Samira recently to talk about what drew her to VISTA in general, to this specific project, and about the complexities of creating a virtual clinic orientation.

Samira is a graduate of Macalester College, with dual degrees in pre-med and political science. She tried many different disciplines throughout her undergraduate career and knew she did not want to box herself in to a single one. She decided on a year of service because “it is always the right choice. Some of my friends are in entry level jobs and some like it, some don’t; some are questioning how their jobs are meaningful. VISTA makes you think about the consequences of the work you do.”

She was drawn to the dental clinic at Metropolitan State University specifically because she wanted to work in a clinical setting and was interested in learning about both the clinical and business sides of hospital management. She had no background in this work, so this seemed like a great way to gain some meaningful entry-level experience. Additionally, she was drawn to the special focus in the clinic. In 2012, it opened as part of the Master of Science Advanced Dental Therapy degree at Metropolitan State. Upon graduation from the program, all students agree to work with patients who are underserved, low income, uninsured, and/or who reside in health professional shortage areas. There are two full-time, permanent staff members, the head of the dental therapy program and the dental clinic coordinator. Otherwise they rely on the ever-changing flow of dental therapy students to serve the oral health needs of low-income patients.

The constant influx of new student volunteers means that there is a large amount of time spent on volunteer orientation by clinic staff. “When volunteers come, you are gaining hours … from their help, but losing time from training everyone. Especially with rotations. On some weeks, up to 20-30 new volunteers start. Varying volunteer schedules means some entire days are spent training people.” The Minnesota Board of Dentistry requires that all volunteers receive intensive training that takes three hours for each new volunteer. In the past, these orientations were done by a dental assistant. Thus, the idea for the Virtual Clinic Orientation (VCO) was born as a way to save time. Rather than the intensive, in-person orientation, where students are not likely to retain the majority of information, the VCO modules are always available for reference as a teaching and orientating resource.

Creating the VCO, as Samira quickly learned, was a time-intensive process. There are many aspects to running a clinic, even a smaller one like the Metropolitan State clinic, and creating an orientation that covers all of the necessary information is a daunting task. The VCO was created through a number of different steps. The first was to create an inventory of all the information that needed to be covered. This included the location of the rooms in the clinic, the purpose of the room, and how to properly use and care for its equipment. Then a visual map of each room was created by taking pictures of the entire clinic, from general pictures of room locations to all the different supplies and machines. All pictures were then grouped based on their location in the clinic. The next step was to create slide shows of the pictures with accompanying voice-overs to explain procedures and videos of important oral health procedures. As someone without a dental background, Samira spent many hours researching how to accurately report information for the videos. This meant that rather than having a narrow vision of the clinic, she became knowledgeable about all of its moving parts. Her VISTA project allowed her to very deeply understand clinic operations and the resulting impact on the community. 

Eventually, Samira worked with clinic staff to create, complete, and edit 19 videos total. In order to test student knowledge she also created a set of assessment questions following each module. She then worked closely with the Advanced Dental Therapy program coordinator to determine how many credits students would receive once they completed the VCO and for which classes those credits would count. Additionally each video has an introduction and an evaluation following its completion. The final step was to pass the VCO to the Online Learning Department at Metropolitan State University, who will assemble and launch it.

The VCO was a massive undertaking that will drastically improve operations at the clinic. As mentioned, every incoming student is required to have an orientation before they serve patients. Having the virtual option in place means that students can complete this on their own time, that they will retain more information, and that they can more effectively and efficiently serve the oral health needs of low-income patients. Additionally, the VCO contains more information than the current orientation, which means students can explore chosen topics of interest in greater depth. The VCO will also be useful for other community clinics. Samira is a “big proponent of sharing intellectual property. The VCO talks about the things you need to take care of and it will be easy for other clinics to take these videos and use them.”

Samira wrapped up her VISTA service on June 10 and is moving down to southern California to start a job with a small nonprofit. She found her experience working with a community organization very valuable, especially the willingness of the small staff to come together and help one another. “I think this effort represents what it means to work for a community organization. People care about the work they are doing and that is why they are there. I will definitely take this with me in the future as a reminder that it’s not a job but a commitment to a vision.”