Loanship benefits students, underserved
In two underserved communities in California and Washington, people who ordinarily would not receive dental care are getting the attention they need, and young dentists are receiving an education not found in any classroom.
Thanks to the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health’s Connect the Docs Graduate Loanship Program, funded through a grant by the United Health Foundation (UHF), new dentists and ASDOH graduates Elizabeth Magallanes, D.M.D., ‘09, and Brenden Davis, D.M.D., M.P.H., ‘09, are part of the solution in addressing a nationwide shortage of dentists in community health centers.
ATSU received the two-year, $100,000 grant from UHF in February 2009 to provide loan repayments to two qualifying graduates who secured jobs in community health centers. Each loanship recipient received $25,000 to repay his or her student loan at the end of each year for two years.
A competitive application process resulted in the selection of Dr. Davis, dental director at Community Health of Central Washington’s (CHCW) Ellensburg Dental Care in Ellensburg, Wa., and Dr. Magallanes, who works at Clinica Sierra Vista in Bakersfield, Calif.
A year into their loanship program, Drs. Magallanes and Davis say the program has helped them focus on providing care to patients rather than worrying about loan repayments.
“I think this is a wonderful way to get dentists into underserved communities, especially if graduating students know early on that this funding would be available if they choose employment at an underserved site,” Dr. Davis says. “ASDOH students would be exceptionally good candidates since many want to work with these populations to begin with.”
Both dentists have adjusted to their first jobs. For Dr. Magallanes, it has been a homecoming of sorts, as she is working on familiar turf in the community that raised her.
“The draw for me in working in an underserved area was personal experience,” she says. “Growing up, I was a patient in these clinics so working in these areas felt comfortable. In my situation, many of my patients are migrant workers and mostly Spanish speaking. I find that knowing or being familiar with the language and culture of your patients makes for an
increased sense of comfort and ease when explaining treatment or diagnosis.”
Dr. Davis says an innate passion to work with the underserved motivates him daily. “It just feels comfortable to be helping people who really need it the most.”
Barriers to care
The young dentists also have learned about barriers that prevent patients from accessing oral healthcare in underserved communities. The most common are access, a lack of funds, apprehension in visiting the facility, and limited awareness about the importance of preventive dental care.
In rural Washington, Dr. Davis found that very few providers see underserved patients. “Before we opened Ellensburg Dental Care, only one clinic had been seeing low-income/Medicaid patients. When we opened our doors, probably over 100 people who were on the wait list to get into the other clinic were referred to ours within just a couple of weeks. Some patients had been waiting years for a dentist who would see low-income/state insurance patients,” he says.
“A large number of children in the country go without treatment due to their parents’ inability to pay for treatment or because they do not realize or know the importance of oral health,” he says. “Having more dentists serve in underrepresented areas would increase the number of patients in these communities who would receive dental treatment and education, therefore increasing public health.”
If access barriers weren’t enough, the ability to recruit professional staff has been a real challenge for rural communities as well, according to Paul Kaschmitter, chief financial officer at CHCW.
“In most cases, community health centers are under financial stress to provide the services that the populations they are serving need and deserve,” he says. “With this loanship program, the Community Health of Central Washington has been able to recruit a provider to its rural setting at compensation that the CHC can afford.”
According to Kaschmitter, one of the major, tangible benefits of this loanship program has been reduced recruiting costs at the CHC, a benefit that is not necessarily available through other practices.
“Having loanships available to recent grads gives them a greater incentive to look for careers in community health centers,” says Jared Simpson, D.D.S., dental director at Clinica Sierra Vista.
“Typically, providers who are interested in serving indigent communities can be hesitant to accept positions due to limited financial resources available to CHCs. The continued support of loanships helps provide a recruitment incentive, as well as aid in the retention of providers once they begin a career in public health.”
Dr. Simpson adds that programs such as the National Heath Corps and individual loanships are an enormous help and asset to community health centers and hopefully will continue to be available.
“There is a great need for providers in our clinics. Populations are expanding, and we are trying to keep up with patients’ needs.”
Benefits to dentists, health
For dentists, the loanship program offers graduating dentists the opportunity to see a variety of patients and handle challenging cases that will enhance their clinical skills and provide a real impact to the overall health of a community.
Both Drs. Magallanes and Davis are enjoying their experience of caring for people who need it the most, and are proud of the impact they are making in the health of their communities.
“People are getting out of pain and are excited to have a fresh start because they are not afraid to smile anymore,” Dr. Davis says.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is that they know there is someone they can go to if they have a dental problem, he adds.“People are beginning to enjoy coming to the dentist instead of dreading it. People are taking a more proactive approach to their oral health. Overall, health is improving.”
“I like to feel that I am helping the community I work in to improve their oral health, feel better about themselves, and aid in keeping them healthy,” says Dr. Magallanes. “My clinic site has both medical and dental services available, which helps promote whole body healthcare, and by being a dentist in this community I feel I am improving its quality of life.
“Many of my patients have put off dental care for years for a variety of reasons, and I feel privileged to be the doctor who stabilizes their oral health and restores their smiles and ability to eat more comfortably.”
For ASDOH Dean Jack Dillenberg, D.D.S., M.P.H., the program is a tangible expression of the school’s model of social innovation, which blends quality education with an unflinching commitment to community service.
“Society is getting a benefit beyond care for their teeth,” he says. “They are getting the benefit of understanding the whole person health concept.”