Bulletin of Dental Education

Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health Positions Students and Graduates for a Community-minded Focus

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The mission of A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-ASDOH) is to educate compassionate, community-minded oral health providers to lead the profession. Since opening in 2003, ATSU-ASDOH’s focus has been to recruit, train and graduate dentists who would go into community and public health settings and serve as the heart of the profession. This year marked its 14th commencement (held virtually) as the school continues to fulfill its mission.

The 2019-20 ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors indicated 10.2% of new graduates intend to work in community/public health settings, with 48% planning on private practice and 36.2% enrolling in postgraduate residencies. Starting with the first ATSU-ASDOH graduates in 2007, approximately the same percentage of new graduates enroll in postgraduate residencies, but 22% of ATSU-ASDOH new graduates choose to work in community/public health settings—more than double the national average.

Courtesy of ATSU-ASDOH

What factors influence these graduates to choose professional pathways in community settings, providing access to care for vulnerable populations? ATSU-ASDOH accomplishes its mission by focusing on those it recruits and selects in admissions and nurturing their desire to serve by using positive faculty role models to deliver a curriculum focused on principles of public health, service learning and community-based patient care experiences with diverse populations.

ATSU-ASDOH‘s recruitment and admissions process emphasizes finding community-minded and service-oriented applicants. One effective pathway is the Hometown Scholars program, where applicants are recommended by ATSU-ASDOH’s community health center (CHC) partners around the country. These Hometown applicants are accepted for interviews at a higher rate after the file review process and have a higher rate of acceptance and enrollment than other applicants, reflecting a consistency of candidates sharing the school’s mission.

ATSU-ASDOH’s curriculum concentrates on nurturing students’ interest in community and service. This includes a Certificate in Public Health for all students and a robust service-learning program, Dentistry in the Community (DIC), integrated through all four years. In 2018-19, DIC resulted in students planning, implementing or participating in over 90 community events, serving over 13,000 people in 74 partnering organizations and completing almost 4,200 service hours. Through these projects, the DIC poverty simulation exercise and multiple four-week rotations at CHCs across the United States, students not only learn, but also truly experience the ways in which communities function and are organized to meet the needs of underserved populations. 

ATSU-ASDOH’s extensive external rotation program, the Integrated Community Service Learning Program, is where D4 students spend over half of their fourth years at CHCs and safety net clinics around the country, serving and providing care to underserved populations alongside providers and staff dedicated to those communities. Students arrive at CHC dental clinics ready and willing to contribute clinically to the CHC’s mission. Subsequently, over 89% of the school’s community partners indicate ATSU-ASDOH students contribute to their overall clinical operation and are valued by their patients and communities.

Finally, but no less important, is the impact of on-campus faculty and faculty preceptors from the CHC network. These faculty and faculty preceptors reflect ATSU-ASDOH’s ability to meet its mission, as this group now includes over 45 ATSU-ASDOH alumni, serving from Maine to Washington and even in Mesa, AZ—where the school is located. Each faculty member serves as a caring and compassionate role model who demonstrates each day what it means to be the heart of the profession.

Courtesy of Wayne Cottam, D.D.S., M.S., Vice Dean, A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health

Published on October 14, 2020

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