Government Assisted Populations (GAP) Clinic

By Cheryl Bell

Jennifer Johnson (DDH’21) maintains that repairing excavators and rock trucks and working as a dental hygienist are not as different as you might think. She should know: she was a heavy equipment technician apprentice before she came to Dalhousie to study dental hygiene.

Johnson has no regrets about the new direction. “There are a lot of transferrable skills between the two roles,” she says, “like problem-solving, hands-on working, and operating in tight quarters.” But dental hygiene also offered more contact with people – and that was what she was looking for.

The health professions, and specifically dental hygiene, had appealed to Johnson for some time. “I feel that dental hygiene is a field where there is an opportunity for growth and expansion.”

What was the best part of dental hygiene school for her? “Clinic,” she says. “It’s the whole point of what you’re doing, isn’t it?” Rotations in schools, hospitals, and outreach clinics were also a favourite. “That experience helps us to expand our role as dental hygienists out into the community.”

Uniquely rewarding opportunities

Johnson was particularly committed to the work of the Government Assisted Populations (GAP) Clinic, which depends on donor support to exist. This Monday evening clinic provides both dental hygiene and limited dental care to new immigrants to Nova Scotia, many of whom need extensive oral health treatment. The students communicate with their patients through interpreters, who help to take medical histories and explain the treatments the patients will receive.

“It is my sincere belief that the GAP clinic encourages students to become more empathetic oral care providers,” says Johnson. The unique experience develops students’ communication skills and understanding of cultural competency, she says, and highlights how access to dental care improves quality of life and provides clinical perspective to population and public health teachings.

“GAP clinic funding is crucial in allowing Dalhousie Dentistry and Dental Hygiene students to provide newcomers with the fundamental right of access to good oral health. In addition, the clinic presents the opportunity to gain experience with complex patient needs often not found in the undergraduate dental clinic, strengthening clinical skills.”

After graduation, Johnson moved to Carbonear, Newfoundland to work at Dr. Kohli Dental Clinic, owned by Dr. Kash Kohli (DDS’18). She hopes to return to Dalhousie to study for a Bachelor of Dental Hygiene to explore other community roles.

The Dalhousie Fund helps create outstanding learning experiences and connects students with scholarships, bursaries and other important resources. Donations to the Dental Hygiene Initiatives for Nova Scotia Immigrants fund and the Dentistry Initiatives for Nova Scotia Immigrants fund will create more hands-on learning opportunities through support for the Government Assisted Populations (GAP) Clinic. You can empower students to make the most of this formative time by making a gift today.