DENTAL DOLLARS: Federal grant provides scholarships for disadvantaged students

A $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will enable East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine to offer more scholarships to economically disadvantaged students over the next four years.

Dental Banner

A student at the ECU School of Dental Medicine practices his skills in the clinical simulation lab at Ross Hall. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

The award – from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Bureau of Health Workforce – is aimed at increasing the number of providers working in underserved communities by providing funds to accredited U.S. health professions schools.

Thirty dental students at East Carolina have already benefited from the recent influx of funding. More than 120 are expected to receive scholarships over the life of the grant.

“The mission of the dental school is to graduate general dentists from North Carolina who will practice in the state, especially in areas of greatest need,” said Dr. Wanda Wright, division director of dental public health at ECU and the grant’s primary investigator.

“We know that educational debt is a critical factor in a graduate’s decision of where to practice, and our aim is to keep that debt as low as possible,” added Dr. Margaret Wilson, vice dean and associate dean for student affairs in the dental school. “With less debt, graduates have greater flexibility in where they choose to practice.”

Faculty member Dr. Roopwant Kaur instructs a student at the School of Dental Medicine. (Photo by Peggy Novotny)

Faculty member Dr. Roopwant Kaur instructs a student at the School of Dental Medicine. (Photo by Peggy Novotny)

Wilson co-authored the grant application.

North Carolina is the fifth fastest-growing state, yet ranks 47th in the nation in dentists per capita, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Twenty-seven of North Carolina’s 100 counties are served by two dentists or fewer per 10,000 people, and one-third of the dentists practicing in the state today are 55-years-old or older.

“The school seeks not only to admit students from communities of need, but students who have a goal to practice in these communities,” Wright said. “We’re more than pleased to present students with these scholarships and will continue looking for public and private support to sustain the objectives of the grant and the school.”

“One day we hope to see a map indicating that our graduates are practicing in areas of greatest need across the state,” Wilson added.

In addition to patient clinics at ECU’s Greenville campus, the school has eight community service learning centers operating in underserved areas across the state. These centers provide fourth-year students with exceptional clinical experience and the opportunity to become familiar with diverse populations and locales.

ECU School of Dental Medicine students volunteer at an ECU Smiles health clinic event in the Elizabeth City community service learning center. (Photo by Peggy Novotny)

ECU School of Dental Medicine students volunteer at an ECU Smiles health clinic event in the Elizabeth City community service learning center. (Photo by Peggy Novotny)

For more information about the School of Dental Medicine and its unique curriculum -cited as a national model for dental education – visit http://www.ecu.edu/dental/.

Sept. 22, 2016
By Peggy Novotny
University Communication