In 1998, Prowest Dental Laboratory was growing, but like most laboratory owners, Chang Kim was faced with the challenge of finding skilled technicians to do the work.
Instead of simply lamenting the problem, he took a proactive approach to increasing the pool of qualified technicians in his region: he started the Prowest Dental Training Institute, a one-year program that has since graduated 22 students from Canada, the United States and Korea.
The program's philosophy is to train students to be able to handle real-world cases without additional training as soon as they finish the program. Although part-time instructors teach the program, Kim is very involved and meets with instructors every morning to discuss the day's lesson plan. "Many times, the person who runs a college or designs curriculum is not a working technician," says Kim. "But because I'm in the lab every day, I know first-hand the challenges and expectations that a working technician faces."
Kim says the strength of the program rests in the fact that it includes more hands-on training than traditional dental technician programs; in fact, students work at the bench on practice cases for at least two-thirds of the year-long course. Once technicians graduate from the program, they spend three months interning with senior technicians at Kim's laboratory.
Initially, the program was offered for free, but Kim noticed that students were not as motivated as they should have been and didn't hesitate to miss a day now and then since they weren't paying for it. To weed out the less serious students, he set monthly tuition at $1,000 Canadian, which includes all of their materials. Although the school is located in the same building as the laboratory, it is operated as a separate business.
Of the 22 graduates, Kim has hired six of them for his own laboratory, and has helped place others. The laboratory owners in Kim's area who hire the graduates agree to a fair starting wage: $2,000 Canadian per month. "Some of our technicians leave the program making five crowns a day; others can do 10; it really depends on the technician," says Kim. "We first teach them how to make the crown correctly, then we show them how to do it efficiently. Those who can do both know they have the capability of earning more."
Seven years ago, Kim applied to the College of Dental Technologists of Alberta--the dental technology regulating body in Alberta--to become recognized by the College as a licensed program. At that time, the College denied the request, saying there was already one dental technology school in the province of Alberta. However, due to the shortage of dental technicians and concerns of many laboratory owners, the College reconsidered and approved Kim's request when he reapplied in 2003.
The first order of business was to design a two-year curriculum, which is what the College requires of a licensed program. "Our one-year program has only been teaching crown and bridge, but the Alberta government wanted us to add instruction on partials, dentures and orthodontics, as well," says Kim. "So the two-year program will offer a choice of two different diplomas: one is for a dental technologist, who must pass exams in dentures, partials, crown & bridge, and orthodontics and periodontal appliances. A dental technician diploma is granted to the graduates who pass exams in three or fewer of those areas." The curriculum is now undergoing the College's approval process.
Kim is excited by the prospect of his institute growing into a diploma program. "It will give us the opportunity to train the very best technicians," he says. For details, call him at 403-264-5411.
Prowest International Dental Services, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Born and raised in South Korea, Chang Kim earned a degree in Education from the University of In-Cheon in 1977 and, five years later, acquired a certificate in Special Dental Technician Training from the University Hospital in Seoul.
He moved to Canada in 1989, worked for various laboratories and eventually trained as an implant specialist under his mentor, Dr. Charles Kastner, a University of Alberta Dental Specialist in Prosthodontics. He later earned his Registered Dental Technician accreditation from the Alberta Association of Dental Technicians and his Master Dental Technologist designation from the University of New York. In addition, he is currently the only technician in Canada accredited by the AACD (American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry) and, in April 2005, received the AACD's prestigious People's Choice Award.
Kim has owned Prowest Dental Laboratory since 1993, growing it from a two-man team to a 40+ operation, with locations in Calgary, Vancouver and Houston. He also has four "network" laboratories--Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Boston--of which he owns 10%.
The laboratory is affiliated with Dr. David Hornbrook and is one of six laboratories fabricating restorations for the Hornbrook Group's live-patient continuing education programs. With this affiliation, Prowest has begun to specialize in "Smile Designs": restorations--usually over 10 maxillary veneers--that strive to truly change a patient's image.
In keeping with his belief that education is of paramount importance, Kim opened the Prowest Dental Training Institute in 1998, is a frequent lecturer to international audiences and has translated English manuals, catalogs and the American Society of Master Dental Technologists' program into Korean.