Delta Dental of Tennessee Donates SUVs to Assist Dentistry Students Traveling to Bristol Clinic

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College of Dentistry students Sarah Mixon and Taylor Wilson will have the opportunity to use one of the two Nissan Rogues donated by Delta Dental of Tennessee to UTHSC when they begin their rotations in August in Bristol.

As the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry continues to expand across the state, so does the travel required for dentistry students on clinical rotations. Thanks to a recent donation of two Nissan Rogue crossover vehicles from Delta Dental of Tennessee, students can now carpool together when traveling back and forth from Memphis to the clinical site located in the Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol, Tennessee.

To participate in the two-week rotations at Healing Hands Health Center, students must drive almost eight hours from Memphis to the eight-room dental clinic. The Bristol clinic opened in September 2015 as part of the College of Dentistry’s continuing mission to care for the dental health of all citizens, and in particular the underserved, across the state.

The donation came about when UTHSC alumnus Rick Guthrie, DDS ’87, an instructor at the Healing Hands Health Center, was approached by a dentistry student about possibly donating gas gift cards to the students who were participating in the two-week clinical rotations. Philip Wenk, UTHSC DDS ’77, CEO and president of Delta Dental of Tennessee, heard about the request and decided there must be more they could do to assist.

“After we helped establish the student externships with Healing Hands, we became aware that transportation could sometimes be an issue for the student doctors traveling to and from the clinic in upper East Tennessee,” said Dr. Wenk. “We wanted to make sure there was always reliable transportation available to them to get to Bristol, as well as to get around the area once they are there. Nissan is a great client of ours, and we were delighted to provide the two new Rogues for the students. We wanted to ensure the sustainability of the externship program so that the patients at Healing Hands would have greater access to dental care and so that the dental students could continue to have this tremendous learning opportunity.”

The new cars, which can fit up to four dentistry students, are driven to Bristol and stay there until the students are done with their rotations. One car stays at UTHSC until the first group returns, and the next group leaves. This allows students on rotations at the Bristol clinic to always have access to one of the cars. They became available for use mid-spring of this year.

Delta Dental of Tennessee has generously supported the UTHSC College of Dentistry with $14.2 million given for capital improvements and scholarships since 1998 by Delta Dental and its new philanthropic arm, the Smile180 Foundation, created in 2014. Funding has been used to ensure the college has a cutting edge imagery center, upgraded technology and facilities, while also establishing scholarship programs for second-, third- and fourth-year dentistry students.

“Without the support of Delta Dental, we would not have been able to give our dental students this rich educational experience, or to offer our support to the wonderful Helping Hands organization in providing dental care for the people of the Bristol community,” said Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC. “I think the life lessons learned by our students from Delta Dental’s outreach and giving back to the community will shape them and their professional careers in a very profound way wherever they find themselves practicing.”