Targeted Recruitment Offers Promise to Diversify Dental Education and Profession

New RWJF report identifies solutions to disparities in oral health.

    • October 25, 2010

A new report that captures lessons learned from 23 dental schools across the country concludes that solutions to America’s oral health disparities are directly linked to community-based dental education programs and enrollment of diverse dental students.

The report, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), provides a “how to” guide on recruitment, enrollment and retention of underrepresented minority and low-income dental students. It also identifies a series of best practices for operating community-based dental education programs.

“Successful Community-Based Dental Education Programs and Underrepresented Minority Dental Student Recruitment and Enrollment Programs” is the culmination of a nine-year demonstration program that supported sites across the country in response to the surgeon general’s 2000 report calling for a national effort to reduce disparities in dental care access.

“Ten years ago, the surgeon general noted that a ‘silent epidemic’ of oral disease affected our nation’s low-income and disadvantaged families. RWJF moved to relieve this epidemic through the dental Pipeline program, a national demonstration program designed to provide care to thousands of underserved patients,” said RWJF president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. “Now, the challenge is for more dental schools to recruit additional underrepresented minorities into dentistry and increase the time that dental students spend in community care clinics caring for underserved patients.”

The Pipeline, Profession & Practice: Community-Based Dental Education (Dental Pipeline) program, which ended this past summer, had a significant impact on increasing diversity in dental schools and on expanding access to dental care. The program more than doubled the days that students and residents spent in community-based settings, substantially increased enrollment of under-represented minorities, and facilitated the integration of cultural competency coursework into the dental school curriculum.

“Most importantly, Dental Pipeline created a national model for dental schools to contribute to reducing oral health disparities. The necessary framework is now in place for dental schools to continue working together to achieve greater diversity and access to dental care,” said Allan Formicola, D.D.S., M.S., who co-directed the program.

Implemented in two phases, Dental Pipeline was a partnership with RWJF, The California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The first phase of the program enlisted 15 U.S. dental schools to develop community-based clinical education programs. The second phase, which began in March 2008, awarded funds to eight more dental schools to carry out similar programs. Building on existing innovative models, the schools provided care to those in the most vulnerable populations and increased recruitment and retention of low-income, underrepresented minority students, including Blacks, Latinos and American Indians.

“Disparities in access to dental care are well documented. Populations that have low incomes, are behaviorally or physically disabled, or reside in rural areas obtain less care and have poorer oral health than more affluent, healthy and urban/suburban populations,” explained Howard L. Bailit, D.M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Dental Pipeline program.

The Dental Pipeline program’s National Program Office was based at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine and operated under the direction of Formicola and Bailit, who is from the University of Connecticut Health Center and Hartford Hospital.

With funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The California Endowment, the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) allocated financial aid to low-income and minority students attending 11 of the Round 1 schools.

“The methods the Dental Pipeline program has discerned for increasing diversity and access to care will be critical to moving dental education forward,” said Sandra C. Andrieu, Ph.D., who is president of the ADEA. “And now it is an honor for the Journal of Dental Education to publish this report chronicling the groundbreaking accomplishments and outcomes of the program.”

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