GREENVILLE,N.C. (Aug. 23, 2011) — As dental students returned from lunch and settled in for their afternoon classes on their first day of school at East Carolina University, Barry Price walked in with a toothbrush and toothpaste in his hand.
The student from Winfall who brushed his teeth after eating got a ribbing from some of his classmates and an “I do the same thing!” from others.
“It’s just something I do,” Price said with a smile after he got to his seat. As an aspiring dentist, he said, if he’s going to care for and advise patients on good oral hygiene, he wants to practice what he teaches.
That was just one moment in a monumental day for ECU, as the 52 students in the inaugural class of the new School of Dental Medicine moved from orientation week to classes. Though last week saw some upheaval with the resignation of Dean James Hupp following a state auditor’s report that raised questions about his travel, students were upbeat, happy to be at ECU and ready to get to work.
“It’s been exciting,” said Bridgett Jones of Winston-Salem, a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta. “I’ve been looking forward to it for over a year now. We’re making history.” She said she chose ECU because the school and university have a family atmosphere.
Christin Carter of High Point also expressed excitement over the start of school. “We’re just glad to get started,” said the N.C. State graduate. “I’m looking forward to getting in the sim labs and working on the Dexter heads.” That’s the nickname for the mannequin simulators students will start working with in September.
“These are bright, enthusiastic, energetic young people who share the mission we have of being in service to other people,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU. “There’s no part of the year we enjoy more than having our students come on board, and having these new dental students is really special.”
The mission of the school is to educate general dentists who will stay in North Carolina to practice, particularly in underserved areas. In North Carolina, four counties have no dentists, and five more could soon be without dentists because their dentists have reached retirement age. In addition, 39 mostly rural counties had a decrease in dentists between 1997 and 2007.
Getting to the first day of classes took six years of planning and working with legislators, the UNC Board of Governors and UNC Chapel Hill to secure approval for the school, approximately $90 million in funding to build it and the partnerships needed to operate it. Despite historic state and university budget constraints, the school opened on schedule.
Students will study basic sciences – microbiology, pharmacology, physiology and the like –Mondays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they will study pre-clinical dental sciences. Every Wednesday, they will take tests on the previous week’s material – except this week.
Students will also use laptop and tablet computers and smartphones in their daily coursework. Instead of books, course materials are primarily electronic, and the school has developed its own mobile applications students may use in their studies. In an auditorium-style classroom the school refurbished in the Brody Medical Sciences Building, they sit at curving tables with electrical and Internet outlets for their computers while professors teach using slideshows and videos to augment their lectures. They also use “breakouts,” where students take what they’ve learned during 20 minutes or so of lecturing and use that information to solve problems.
“The student experience is everything for us, and right now, I think we’re meeting expectations,” said Dr. Todd Watkins, assistant dean for dental education and informatics, who has worked on curriculum development with two other new schools. “I’ve been extremely pleased.”
Next year, students should move to the 185,000-square-foot Ross Hall, under construction on the ECU Health Sciences Campus and visible from the upper floors of the Brody Building. Next year should also see the opening of the first dental community service learning center. At these centers, dental faculty members, residents and students will provide care for area people and students and residents will learn what practicing in a community setting is like. A ground-breaking for the first of 10 centers across the state is scheduled for this afternoon in Ahoskie.