GREENVILLE – East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine is hailed as a national model for supplying much-needed dentists to rural communities, Chancellor Cecil Staton says.
Open only since 2011,1 the dental school has opened eight regional centers in rural communities across the state – extending even as far as Sylva in far western North Carolina.
“They literally are clinics where people can come – and in some cases people who’ve never had access to dental care – they can get the care for their families,” Staton says in the accompanying video.
There’s a reason ECU places fourth-year dental students in rural locations.
“We have an ulterior motive,” Staton says. “We think if we put them in a rural community, they get to practice on their skills in a rural setting, we’ve got a better chance of getting them back there to practice.”
In part because of the regional clinics, Dean Greg Chadwick says that in six short years, ECU dental students have seen more than 50,000 patients from 99 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
By combining state education dollars with Medicaid health-care dollars, Chadwick says, the school strives to keep student debt low – graduates for the past three years have averaged about half the national average for debt among graduating dental students.2
“The reason to keep that debt low is so our students have the opportunity to go back into rural and underserved areas and practice,” Chadwick says.
“We take the education dollars to run the dental school, (then) combine the education dollars with the health-care dollars to be able to educate the next generation of dentists while we’re also providing patient care. That becomes most visible out in the community service learning centers.”
It’s a win for the rural communities as well, he says – each clinic generates about a million dollars a year in economic impact.
But Chadwick points out that four North Carolina counties still don’t have a dentist, and 30% of North Carolinians still don’t receive the care they need or want.
“That’s an opportunity for folks that focus on primary care for rural and underserved areas of the state – and that’s our mission,” he says.
Staton points out that ECU’s medical and dental schools admit only North Carolinians.
“The whole thing is set up to produce more dentists for North Carolina – and particularly our rural and underserved areas,” he says.
“And we are being nationally recognized for the success that we’re having because of those regional learning centers. It’s really a wonderful model, and it’s having an enormous impact for North Carolina.”
2https://www.ncleg.net/documentsites/committees/bcci-6715/February%2015,%202018/III.A%20Chadwick%20ECU_SoDM-Legislative-Committee-on-Access-to-Health-Care-in-Rural-Communities_02-15-18_FINAL%20(1).pdf, Slide 9.