LAKEWOOD RANCH -- About 100 local dental students are about to take a life-changing journey into the real world of dentistry, using the information, standards and principles they have learned in the classroom at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch.
The students, who represent the inaugural dental class of 2016 at LECOM, received their sendoffs to professional group dental practices on Friday, during a white coat ceremony, a college tradition.
The formal ceremony was held on the LECOM campus at the School of Dental Medicine, 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Students will now embark on their fourth year of study at professional dental practice sites in DeFuniak Springs and Erie, Pa., the headquarters of LECOM. They will train in the field with patients while acquiring health care skills that will last throughout their dental careers.
"I got to see them crawl before they walk, and now they're starting to jump," clinical instructor Barry Lipton said. "I trust them completely and I would sit in a dental chair and have them care for me. I have seen their evolution and everything has clicked."
LECOM dental students, such as Sarasota's Stephanie Cole, 27, are already ahead of the curve: They worked regularly in the LECOM Dental Clinic located on campus in Lakewood Ranch.
"You can learn something from a book, but honestly, the best way to learn something is hands-on" Cole said before the formal ceremony.
"Here, the experience we get is second to none. In my second year, I had my very first patient. We didn't do anything invasive. We did dentures. Since then I can fabricate a denture in two appointments, when at first, it took me six weeks. The school is incredible," she said.
The ceremony was attended by family members and friends, and each dental student was given a white coat, with the assistance of three dental school deans. The coats symbolize the students' willingness to to accept their dental responsibilities.
Cole's mother, Karen Barnes, said after the ceremony that she's not surprised about her daughter's abilities.
"She's been an over-achiever since she was a child and she's always wanted to do this. I think dentistry is a great field for women who want to have a family and raise kids, but yet still have a good career."
LECOM's Lakewood Ranch campus opened in 2004, establishing a college of medicine, pharmacy and dental medicine, and most recently, a school of graduate studies.
The Lakewood Ranch Dental School has a community clinic where patients who qualify financially can receive dental care by practicing students at a reasonable cost. Information about the clinic can be obtained by calling (941) 405-1600.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.