ECU graduates first dental class | The Daily Reflector


By Michael Abramowitz
May 8, 2015

North Carolina this week will have more sorely needed dentists to serve those most in need of primary oral health care, achieving the mission of the first-ever graduating class from the East Carolina University School of Dentistry.

The school selected its inaugural class of 50 pre-doctoral students in 2011 from among 400 of North Carolina’s historically disadvantaged and underrepresented population who possessed the necessary qualifications, including a demonstrated passion to serve. If the school’s faculty, residents and supporting staff got it right, the state’s first pioneers in community-based oral health and education will have emerged with a new health care model.

“The mission drives everything at ECU’s dental school,” Dr. Greg Chadwick, the school’s dean, said. “It drives who we recruit, what we teach and how we teach it here at Ross Hall and at our community service learning centers throughout the state, and it drives our relationships with the people of those communities.”

The school’s leaders have been hard at work on their mission to prepare the first 50 dentists with the clinical skills, ethical bearing and personal judgment needed to provide and enhance oral health services for underserved North Carolinians in rural and urban locations, Chadwick said. Together, the students and faculty have developed a diverse and innovative learning environment to model what dental care likely will be now and into the future, he said.

The school’s state-of-the-science learning environment directly influences future clinical practice and dental education through research and innovation. Clinical simulation laboratories replicate patient care as closely as possible for students using the teaching technology.

A comprehensive dentistry treatment center with 48 dental chairs replicates a private practice operating environment. Beginning in their second year, students treat patients in the center under faculty supervision and refine their skills at procedures performed by general dentists.

At Ross Hall on the ECU campus, electronic learning halls offer students a window to the world of dentistry through teleconferencing. Students can make virtual visits to labs and the school’s eight community service learning centers across the state, or to any location in the world that has reciprocal technology.

Everything about ECU’s dental school places it on the frontier of health education and practices. Its first graduates now will take the helm and collaborate with school leaders and community residents to move the model forward, Chadwick said.

Chadwick was confident about his graduates’ ability to put the school’s program solidly on target for what it set out to do. The model of care the new dentists already provide goes far beyond the simple drill, fill and extract baseline of care, Chadwick said.

“We’ve stuck to what we told the State Legislature we would do when we presented our case to them for funding our school,” Chadwick said. “These graduating seniors who were out this year among our eight statewide community service learning centers are a model for the new type of care, getting to see underserved communities from the inside and engaging people over time about the importance of preventive care and better oral health. Our model goes hand in hand with our university’s overall mission.”

A secondary goal of that community engagement care model occurs when the graduates meet and speak with young people in communities about the opportunities they have to become dental practitioners themselves and serve their communities the same way, Chadwick said.

The students did not have the advantage of being among upperclassmen who could guide them through the challenges and reassure them that it all had been done before by others.

“But they have taken on the mantle of being the inaugural class as something to be proud of, knowing that this is the first time this has been done,” Chadwick said.