By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 6, 2017) — Dr. Robert Barberee has experienced tremendous growth during his 20 years residing and practicing dentistry in Stephenville.
Barberee and his wife, Jane, now have four children, a son-in-law and two granddaughters.
While his family is bustling, his private practice is thriving, too, right in the center of town on South Harbin Drive a stone’s throw off West Washington Street.
But over the last seven years, what has grown the fastest in Barberee’s world is his impact on the dental profession through the graduation of 211 state registered dental assistants from the school he directs right there in his private practice.
Dental Career Center of Stephenville welcomed its first students in June, 2010, and in March of this year surpassed 200 graduates, all leaving DCCS certified to work as dental assistants anywhere in Texas.
As director of the state-licensed program, Barberee saw the 200th graduate earn certification as part of the 18th class of students at DCCS. The 19th class met for the first time last Friday, June 2, and is set for completion on August 26. And the Barberee team doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. The school website, DCCStephenville.com, already lists course dates through the end of 2023.
Barberee said DCCS was born from a love of teaching, a need for westward expansion of such career training programs in the dental industry, and the example set by one of his instructors at Texas A&M-University System’s Baylor Dental College of Dentistry, where he earned his doctor of dental surgery distinction in 1997.
“The word doctor, if you go back to its origins, actually means teacher,” said Barberee in an interview at the end of May, the completion of seven years welcoming students to Stephenville for 180-240 hours of lectures in an upstairs classroom above the private practice and lab work back downstairs. “I love to teach, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and felt a passion for.”
Once the lectures and lab hours are completed to the satisfaction of state regulations and DCCS standards, students perform two days of unassisted dental care and a three-day externship, similar to an internship but less rigorous, and that’s the long and the short of it. Three months of training for a cost of $3,000 and students graduate as registered dental assistants ready for work. Some of the first students have even gone on to start their own dentistry and have even decided to consider hiring a dental marketing company to help them grow their business.
Of course, no one becomes a dental care expert in such a brief period of time.
“With the course being only 12 weeks, we can only teach the basics, they have to go into a specialty following that,” Barberee said. “Here they get the foundation and learn the basic skills, and from there as they find a job, or maybe change offices throughout their careers, they will learn that every dentist is different in what they use and in their techniques.”
Marisa Jimenez is the lead instructor, though Barberee does quench his own thirst to teach with subjects like history of dentistry and dental ethics. Lab hours at DCCS are time spent observing and assisting Barberee or registered dental assistants Jimenez or Rachel Mayfield with actual patients.
One of the keys to DCCS’ success has been its zero turnover rate among the three primary faces of the school. In his private practice, Barberee has employed Jimenez since 2007 and Mayfield since 2008. Mayfield focuses solely on the lab side of the school, increasing to three the number of students who can observe and assist a registered dental caregiver at any time.
“We’re a second family, we kind of have to be. We live together from 8-5 and we build on our experiences from each class and learn something new with every one,” Barberee said. “We always want to learn new teaching methods and different ways to do this or that so we are best preparing our students for the workforce. We have to make sure we are keeping up with the latest technology, but we also show them some of the older ways of doing things because there are offices where that may still be required.”
Students from each class have one guest instructor in Brad Smith, a local EMT, paramedic and AHA certified CPR instructor. He trains students in CPR in accordance with the same set of stringent government regulations that limits classes to 12 students each.
It’s Jimenez who DCCS students spend the bulk of their 12 weeks with, and she admits she did not share Barberee’s fire for teaching when the first students reported back in 2010. Seven years later, however, she loves what she’s doing and says she has no regrets.
“Teaching was something that honestly never even crossed my mind until Dr. Barberee discussed it one day,” Jimenez said. “I just decided to look at it as a challenge and an experience that I had never done before. I accepted the opportunity and have really enjoyed it all these years and fallen in love with it.”
Jimenez says testimonials of dental assistants whose careers began with completion of the DCCS course work is the best form of advertising the program could ever ask for.
“When people see a friend they know is a dental assistant, or someone goes in and they meet a dental assistant who is good at their job and loves what they do, a lot of times people will ask them how they got into this line of work, and so our old students are telling them about coming here and the experience they had and how they graduated in just three months.,” said Jimenez. “I mean we have done Facebook and some other advertisements, but really, word of mouth tis the best thing for us. It’s brought us students from Burkburnett to Eagle Pass.”
While there have been some of those long-distance travelers to DCCS, Barberee says most students come from a 60 mile – give or take – radius around Stephenville.
“We get students from Breckenridge. Brownwood, Gatesville, places like that because there is no program like this where they are at,” said Barberee, who before his undergraduate studies at the University of Houston was primarily raised in Breckenridge and finished high school in Boerne. “We saw a need and we wanted to fill that need, and we’ve been able to do that right here in Stephenville.”
All in an upstairs classroom and downstairs in his private practice, with staff he already employed.
Wherever the students come from, Jimenez knows where they are going if they follow the example set by Barberee. He opened a door for her to share her craft with others, and today she is teaching her 19th class in eight years.
“I believe Dr. Barberee has been successful because he does things the right way and treats people the right way and he believes in people and tries to help them succeed,” said Jimenez. “He believed in me, that I could be a teacher. I don’t know why, I had never done anything like that before, but he believed in me and now I love it.”
Barberee spends 36 weeks of each year opening similar doors of opportunity, building what will stand as a lasting legacy in the dental profession, 12 eager students at a time.
“Most rewarding for me is the moment you see the light bulb come on,” said Barberee. “They come in and first most of them look a little lost. Then, as you work with them and they figure it out, you see that light bulb come on and you see them moving further down the pathway toward success. That really is what it’s all about.”