Though she now helps educate aspiring dental assistants at the Center for Career and Community Education, for years Melanie Kerschner educated and cared for in the western Alaskan wilderness, many cut off from roads and access to basic health needs.
Facing at times temperatures 40 below zero and a treeless, windy and snow-covered arctic tundra, Kerschner stayed seven years on a mission to improve the dental care of more than 26,000 Alaskan natives in 48 remote villages.
Working for the company Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Kerschner was a member of the Dental Health Aide Therapist program and would leave the small town of Aniak, which she called home, for a week or more at a time.
Kerschner — who began teaching prospective dental assistants at CCCE after her Alaskan experience came to an end — recounted her time as a humbling experience that was both physically and emotionally challenging.
“I was unprepared for what I saw,” said Kerschner. “It was not the lack of flushing toilets, paved roads or vehicles. Within my first days there, I saw there was an epidemic of oral disease.
The flights toward the western coast of Alaska could be treacherous in the winter. After loading roughly 400 pounds of equipment onto a small plane, the team needed to lug it to camp usually by snowmobile, and set up in schools or small clinics.
Upon arrival, the team worked long hours to see patients — sometimes until midnight to ensure everyone was seen.“
I devoted all I had to help make a change,” she said.
Kerschner’s passion is still for improving the oral care of children, adding she always encourages her students at CCCE to “make a difference” and educate all about how to keep their smiles healthy.
Those looking to get into the field and learn from her bevy of hands-on knowledge can sign up for the spring 2019 class that begins in February.
An Oswego County Career Chat for those interested in becoming a medical or dental assistant is slated for Jan. 30 at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego from 6-7 p.m.
For more information about the programs, contact Rob Elia at 315-593-9469.