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ECU’s New Dental Learning Center Aimed At Community Outreach

Posted on Tuesday, April 8, 2014


The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine opened the third Community Service Learning Center in Lillington, NC, with a ribbon cutting ceremony held on March 24.

The Lillington site, a 7,700-square-foot facility, is the third of eight to 10 service learning centers planned for operation in underserved areas across the state. The facilities combine clinical education, patient care and a community outreach aspect.

The facility will be staffed with a dentist as the director, stationed at each 16-chair center along with two general dentistry residents. Senior year, students will spend eight weeks at three different sites. During the period, they will learn about the local communities and help treat patients.

“The goal is to have students spending time in the communities where we want them to practice, recruit people from the communities and keep tuition as low as possible. It is part of the dental school model and our mission, and the centers are part of that model,” said Margaret Wilson, associate dean for student affairs.

The first center is located in Ahoskie and the second center is located in Elizabeth City. Other planned sites include Lumberton, Sylva, Lillington, Spruce Pines and Davidson County.

“We had to establish an education program in order to prepare students for rural healthcare because in rural areas people will have general health care problems, as well as dental, and have greater financial need. This program will prepare them for these challenges,” said Wilson.

The dental school’s curriculum has been modified to an accelerated pace in order to have students ready to go to the community centers, according to Wilson. The curriculum will also focus on clinical and system-based medicine in order to prepare students for working in rural healthcare.

“The university paid for the building and for staffing, while the land is donated by the community,” said Wilson. “People are excited for the center, and it is a joint ownership and partnership with the community.”

A major component of the center is community service by the students working there. These university students will work with children at local schools. School-provided housing will be available, within the community, for the students of the School of Dental Medicine.

“For students to mentor and be a role models in local communities, where not everyone is a college graduate, goes back to educating and making leaders in local communities and is an important aspect of our mission and goal,” said Wilson.

Coincidentally, all dental students, a class size of 52, are North Carolina residents. There are an estimated 400 people applying to the school each year, in addition to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, home of the only other dental school in the state.

“The reason we as a dental school were established was for dentist for North Carolina, we have an obligation to educate North Carolinians,” said Wilson. “The people of North Carolina made the decision through their legislators to fund and support the dental school.”

North Carolina ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the number of dentists per capita, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill. The state averages three dentists for every 10,000 people residing in rural areas, while it averages nearly five dentists for every 10,000 people residing in urban areas.

Nationally, the ratio is six dentists for every 10,000 people. Eighty out of 100 counties are considered rural by the Rural Center of North Carolina..

“The placing of the dental school at ECU is a perfect fit with ECU’s commitment to service, leadership and the transformation of communities,’ said Wilson. “We have a similar model, like Brody, where our aim is to provide general dentist for the communities of Eastern NC as well as across the state. “

Future plans for the dental school include the first graduating class of 2015 and establishing a pediatric dentistry residency, the only specialty training to be provided by the school.

Source: The East Carolinian

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