April 2006

Grant Results


Since 1998, the Dental Assistant Training Program at the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery has provided disadvantaged, minority residents of northern Manhattan with tuition-free training to become qualified dental assistants. Program graduates are employed as dental assistants in local offices and clinics that serve populations with traditionally poor access to oral health care.

Key Results

  • The graduation rate increased from 68 percent for the first three graduating classes to 95 percent for the August 2004 graduating class, the last of the grant period.
  • The number of students doubled as a result of admitting two classes each year.

After the initial financial support provided by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone ended in 2001, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a solicited grant of $384,886 to the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, which partially funded the Dental Assistant Training Program from 2002 to 2004.

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Researchers at the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery have documented a significant incidence of oral disease among residents of the economically disadvantaged, minority communities of Washington Heights/Inwood and Central Harlem in northern Manhattan (New York City). These communities are U.S. Public Health Service-designated dental health professional shortage areas with very limited access to oral health services for residents.

  • Children have untreated tooth decay at rates that are significantly higher than the national average.
  • Teens show high levels of decay and gum inflammation.
  • Older adults have a high prevalence of advanced periodontal disease.

Columbia University researchers found that the addition of auxiliary personnel, such as dental assistants, can decrease per-patient costs and can help improve access to dental services. They also found that the availability of well-trained dental auxiliaries enhances the potential of communities to attract dentists.

In 1998, the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery and its affiliate, the Harlem Hospital Dental Service, launched a Dental Assistant Training Program. It aimed to improve access to dental services by training disadvantaged, minority local residents for entry-level positions as dental assistants in local dental offices and clinics. The training program is tuition-free. It also provides textbooks and other educational materials, uniforms, transportation to clinical training sites, the required medical examination, health care services, job placement services, and the examination fee for certification at no cost to the student.

The fully accredited, one-year program graduated 52 underrepresented minority students in its first three years, with the support of a grant from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation.

Six graduates entered advanced educational programs; the others became full-time dental assistants, most in northern Manhattan. The attrition rate for the first three years of the program was 32 percent.

The Empowerment Zone Development Corporation grant ended with the 2001 graduating class. The training program required additional funding to continue in the short term and reliable support to become sustainable in the longer term.

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RWJF also has funded Pipeline, Profession and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education. The goal of this program is to assist dental schools to increase access to dental care for underserved populations. See www.dentalpipeline.org for more information.

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Dental Assistant Training Program staff sought to:

  • Increase the number of dental assistants available for employment by achieving a graduation rate of 85 percent or higher.
  • Secure long-term financial support to sustain the training program into the future.

Project activities included the following:

  • Training program staff designed and distributed brochures on the program to high schools, community-based organizations and churches in northern Manhattan in order to identify a larger pool of applicants.
  • Students received targeted financial assistance to help them overcome barriers to completing the program. All students received monthly transportation passes. Emergency funds provided students with financial support to meet emergency needs, enabling the students to meet living expenses and continue in the program. Needs included emergency child care (the most common barrier to program completion), rent and/or utilities.
  • A 1999 graduate of the program, hired as a faculty instructor, provided additional academic and mentoring help.
  • Project staff engaged fundraising consultant Carolyn Gray (Gray Consulting Corp., Alexandria, Va.), who has worked with dental institutions and with the American Association of Dental Schools, to identify and pursue sustainable funding sources for the future.
  • Grant funds also supported fundraising efforts for the training program by the development officer of the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery. These efforts did not result in new funding sources during the project period and, subsequently, staff reconfigured the training program as a welfare-to-work program. See After the Grant for details.

More information about the Dental Assistant Training Program is available at its Web site. An article about diversity efforts at the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, published in the Journal of Dental Education includes a description of the Dental Assistant Training Program. See the Bibliography for details.

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  • The graduation rate increased to 95 percent for the class graduating in March 2004, from 68 percent in the program's first three years. All graduates either are employed as full-time dental assistants in local underserved communities or are enrolled in higher education (such as dental hygiene school). One graduate applied to dental school.
  • The number of students doubled as a result of admitting two classes (one in September and one in March) each year, with 20 to 25 students in each class. The first March class entered in March 2004.
  • Project staff increased the number of practice sites at which students receive their clinical training. The availability of two classes of students annually enables the training program to fill a clinical slot for a full year, with a student from each class completing a six-month placement. This is more attractive to dental practices and the number of placement sites has grown to more than 12.

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  1. Make stipends and/or extra financial assistance a part of any tuition-free training program for disadvantaged students. If students in a training program cannot pay for their rent, utilities and child care, they will likely drop out. Flexibility in the allocation of emergency funds enables training program staff to provide help where needed most to keep students in the program. (Project Director)
  2. Plan to devote at least some faculty time to mentoring and counseling students on personal issues. "You almost need someone to serve as a social worker," said Project Director, Marlene Klyvert, to help students with their living arrangements and other everyday issues that are essential to their ability to participate in the training program.

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As RWJF funding drew to a close, the Dental Assistant Training Program reconfigured itself to train welfare recipients in New York City for work. The New York City Human Resources Administration allows public assistance recipients to be trained as dental assistants while continuing to receive their monthly welfare support.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agreed, for 2005, to refund the program for part or all of the cost of training dental assistants who subsequently are employed by the city for its public dental services. The New York State Department of Labor awarded $143,000 to the training program as part of its Securing Prosperity for New York's Workforce Project. These collaborations provide support at least through the 2006 graduating classes.

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Program to Recruit and Train Minority Residents as Dental Assistants to Serve Northern Manhattan's Underserved Population


Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery (New York,  NY)

  • Amount: $ 384,886
    Dates: April 2002 to September 2004
    ID#:  044582


Marlene Klyvert
(212) 305-3573

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)


Formicola AJ, Klyvert M, McIntosh J, Thompson A, Davis M and Cangialosi T. "Creating An Environment for Diversity in Dental Schools: One School's Approach." Journal of Dental Education, 67(5): 491–499, 2003. Available online.

World Wide Web Sites

http://dental.columbia.edu/education/datp/datp.html. "Dental Assistant Training Program" on the Web site of the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery includes information on program organization, admissions and coursework. New York: Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery.

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Report prepared by: Christine Kilgore
Reviewed by: Mary B. Geisz
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Judith S. Stavisky