Who Will Serve?

Assessing Recruitment of Underrepresented Minority and Low-Income Dental Students to Increase Access to Dental Care

In 2002, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded Pipeline, Profession and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education, a national program to improve dental care access for the underserved by increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities (URMs) and low-income students in dental schools.

This study shows that recruiting URM dental students of all income groups leads to more students graduating with the intention to serve minorities. The schools funded through the initiative were successful in increasing enrollment of African American, Hispanic and American Indian students by 29 percent between 2002 and 2007. The schools, however, did not show an increase in low-income students (parents with incomes $50,000 or less).

Using data from the 2007 American Dental Education Association survey of dental school seniors to investigate the intention of graduates to serve underserved and vulnerable populations, researchers examined graduating students’ demographic characteristics and their level of debt.

Key Findings:

  • Some 83 percent of low-income students are non-URM. Conversely 17 percent of low-income students are URMs.
  • Upon graduation, both low- and high-income URMs were three times more likely to plan to serve more than 25 percent minority patients than high-income, non-URM students.
  • Students with large debt ($168,000 to $350,000) were three times less likely to plan public service than those with low debt (less than $70,000). Those participating in loan repayment programs were almost 10 times more likely to plan public service than those not participating.

The study found that the majority of low-income students were not URMs and, conversely, that the majority of URMs were not low income. The authors note that recruitment programs targeted toward URMs will miss large segments of low-income applicants.

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