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Gail Tanaka’s Legacy supports dental leaders of the future

Gail Tanaka’s Legacy supports dental leaders of the future

September 12, 2022
Gail Tanaka image in ICHS Dental Office

When people first think of their dental visit, oftentimes they think only of their dentist. However, dental assistants are indispensable players in the dental team when keeping our patients and providers safe. The International Community Health Services (ICHS) Dental Assistant Internship Program aims to uplift these future champions.

Viktoriya Garkavi, ICHS Bellevue Dental Clinical Support Supervisor, works closely with the entire clinic team and is very passionate about this program. “Given that dental assistants are very scarce in the market,” she said, “this program provides financial support to people that are passionate about helping others. It builds a talent pipeline for ICHS to continue providing essential dental care.”

This 6-month-to-2-year program is offered as a full-time paid position at ICHS for students to gain certified knowledge and hands-on experience as a dental assistant. Students receive full employee benefits and compensation from day one of their training. They are partnered with ICHS clinic supervisors for one-on-one instruction, and work alongside a whole team of dental professionals.

“In a way, ICHS wants to pay it forward,” said Garkavi. “We want to invest in their future and help them pave the way for their careers in the service of our community.”

Mei Vuong ICHS Dental Assistant

Mei Vuong, ICHS dental assistant served patients at ICHS’ Bellevue Medical & Dental clinic in 2021 and 2022. She first joined ICHS as a dental patient support representative, but then decided to join ICHS’ dental assistant intern program.

“I can help make a difference in patients’ lives, especially those who don’t speak English,” said Mei Vuong, a former ICHS dental assistant intern. “Being able to communicate with them in their language, give them the proper treatment, and then actually explain everything to them. This is what makes me happy. This is what I want to do.”

Integral to our dental clinic operations, dental assistants perform a myriad of key activities: supporting our dentists, building trust and communication with our patients, and ultimately advancing the ICHS mission to break down barriers of accessing our healthcare services.

Gail Tanaka, ICHS’ third executive director, was key in carrying out that mission. From 1981 to 1988, she was instrumental in leading the International District Community Health Center (which is what ICHS was originally named). While waves of Southeast Asian refugees arrived into the region after the Vietnamese war, the IDHC was forced to expand its services despite a nationwide cut in federal clinic funding. As we have overcome these challenges, ICHS continued to adapt and has grown into the multi-clinic agency we are today.

The family of Gail Tanaka has generously decided to start a scholarship fund to support the ICHS Dental Assistant internship program, expanding the service to the community.

“Dental disease underlies so much physical and mental disability, especially in the underserved and BIPOC communities,” said Dr. David McLanahan, husband of Gail Tanaka and volunteer medical provider with ICHS for over 25 years. “This will be a lasting tribute to Gail's lifetime work for those left out in our dysfunctional health care system."

Contact for more information about the Dental Assistant internship program.


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