BVHC: Ending at the beginning

ARLINGTON — As dental student Nicholas Guy prepares to depart his externship at Arlington's Battenkill Valley Health Center, medical student Allison Robbins has just begun to settle in.

The two are trailblazers for the community health center's growing internship program, which encourages students to learn and grow in the Arlington community. Eventually, BVHC hopes that some students will return to live and work after graduating.

"It's a really critically important way for us to build a primary care workforce in the state of Vermont," said Dr. Anje Van Berckelaer, who will oversee Robbins during her time at BVHC. "We have a real shortage of primary care providers. Not enough medical students go into family medicine, so it's an opportunity for us to show them that it's fun, it's rewarding, and that the relationships we build with our patients are really meaningful."

According to Van Berckelaer, welcoming a medical student is beneficial in a number of respects.

"For the student, it's important to have locations to learn family medicine," she said. "From a practice perspective, it's good for the clinicians who work with her, me in particular, to stay fresh."

Robbins, a native of North Bennington, is in her third year at the University of Vermont Medical School. Knowing that she would be placed somewhere in Vermont, the aspiring doctor opted to "control her own destiny" by requesting BVHC specifically.

"This area has such a need for family medicine and practitioners," she said. "It's been really rewarding seeing the community I grew up in, and being able to give back a bit. [The program's] off to a great start, and it's going to make a really big difference in this area because there is such a need."

Though Robbins only began on Dec. 4, she says that the experience has already proved educational.

Typically, Robbins will begin each appointment by taking a patient's history and conducting any necessary physical examination. She will then explain her plan for each patient to Van Berckelaer, who works with both Robbins and the patient to solidify that plan.

"It's been wonderful to have a group of mentors around me and coaching me," said Robbins. "I think that the collegial environment, as well as the enthusiasm behind both medicine and taking care of your community, are really great."

Guy, who began his dental externship in September, says that the experience also provides insight unique to a smaller community health center.

"You get to see it all, and the unique thing about coming to a community health center like this is that we have medical right across the hall," he explained. "You really get those interprofessional workings, which are a little different than going to a stand-alone private dental practice. It almost becomes a one-stop-shop for the community."

While working a rural area provides its own challenges, BVHC dentist Dr. Stephen Phillips says that the experience provides students with a range of skills.

"He got a little taste of everything; especially extractions and fillings," Phillips said, adding that Guy will typically see up to six patients a day. "The volume is really good because dentistry is really repetitious. The more you do the better you get; it's like riding a bike."

Having a dental student is also a boon to BVHC's patients as well, says Phillips, as it becomes easier to accommodate same-day emergencies. Describing Guy as "the apple of his eye," Phillips hopes that more dental students like him will consider joining BVHC on a more permanent basis.

"That's kind of a mission for my school, trying to get dentists into rural underserved communities," said Guy, a student at the University of New England. "It's an experience like no other; you really become the community's dentist. I think anyone would be lucky to come back and serve the greater Arlington community. "

Reach Cherise Madigan at, or by phone at 802-490-6471.


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