Most kids dread going to the orthodontist, and it’s no wonder – headgear, braces and retainers can lead to physical discomfort, self-consciousness about one’s appearance, and missing out on yummy treats like popcorn and chewy candy. However, it was quite the opposite for CIRI shareholder Maxim “Max” Ricardo Dolchok Jr.
“When I entered college, I was kind of an aspiring dentist,” Max said. “I had a good experience as a kid with orthodontia. My orthodontist was really cool, and he inspired me to study sciences and look at dental schools.”
Max (Dena’ina Athabascan) is connected to CIRI through his parents, Tanya and Maxim Dolchok. His late grandfather, also named Maxim Dolchok, served as the first chair of Southcentral Foundation’s (SCF) board of directors and was honored as CIRI’s Elder Shareholder of the Year in 2014.
Max graduated high school in 2002. In 2003, he enrolled in SCF’s Dental Assisting Training Program. “Before I committed to eight years of dental school, I figured I’d at least dip my toe in the water,” Max explained.
SCF’s Dental Assistant Training Program (now the Dental Assisting Technology Program) trains students to become dental assisting professionals. Within five months, students earn 52 college credits at no cost, as well as develop the skills and knowledge through instruction and clinical experience to open career opportunities. Upon completion of the program, graduates obtain a certificate of completion in dental assisting technology and are eligible to take the Dental Assisting National Board exam to become a certified dental assistant.
While Max eventually shifted his focus in college from dentistry to business, he worked as a dental assistant at SCF for 15 years. And he still works at SCF. “SCF dental assistants really strive and advocate for prevention – that’s the key,” Max said. “Our dental program services 56 rural Alaska communities, from McGrath to St. Paul to Tatitlek. Through community health clinics, we provide preventive and emergent care. We inject ourselves into the communities and really try our best to learn about the people and their specific challenges.”
The need for dental care in rural Alaska is huge. The rate of cavities among rural Alaska Native children is four and a half times as severe as the general population of U.S. children. Tooth decay and other serious dental problems in adults occur at more than twice the national rate. Lack of water fluoridation, frequent soda and energy-drink consumption, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and tobacco use all contribute to poor dental health outcomes in Alaska villages.
While Max worked as dental assistant primarily in Anchorage, “my most memorable experiences have been in rural communities,” he said. “Dental is not the most portable profession; there’s a lot of equipment you have to pack. A full pack is like 1,300 pounds of equipment. But bringing dental services to rural Alaska really is great fun. When you show up in town, it’s like you’re a rock star. Your plane lands, and everyone knows you’re coming. The community pulls together to help you set up and unload. I also saw a lot of really cool places in Alaska I never would have seen otherwise.”
A CIRI-affiliated nonprofit, SCF provides a range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellness services for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Southcentral Alaska. Its Nuka System of Care is a relationship-based, customer-owned approach to transforming health care, improving outcomes and reducing costs.
Max has been involved with SCF for more than half his life, starting with SCF’s RAISE program at age 14, which provides opportunities for on-the-job workforce experience in the context of Alaska Native cultural values. He rose through the ranks of the dental program, starting as a dental assistant and advancing to supervisor and dental manager. In August 2018, Max was hired as the special assistant to Dr. Kevin Gottlieb, SCF’s chief of staff and vice president of resource and development. Dr. Gottlieb oversees several programs and departments, including SCF’s dental program.
In addition to a busy professional and home life— Max and his wife, Stephanie, recently became first-time parents—Max is pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage. As for the future, he hopes to stay at SCF.
“It’s such a good organization to work for,” he enthused. “I’ve been with SCF for 16 years, but it doesn’t seem that long at all. They really believe in work-life balance; I have a life outside of work, and it’s great because I can embrace that. I also get to help the Alaska Native community achieve health and wellness. Employees who voluntarily leave SCF often rejoin at a later date because it’s such a great organization.”
For information about SCF’s Dental Assisting Technology Program, visit www.southcentralfoundation.com/datprogram.