Grassroots dentists

July 14, 2012 

Many young doctors and dentists, perhaps burdened with debt from their lengthy educations, gravitate toward the green pastures of affluent cities and suburbs. Residents in those areas need health care just as much as anyone, right? The professional figures that he or she can do well by doing good.

But what about the needs of people who live in the small towns, the rural outback of a state like North Carolina, where in county after county outside the urban prosperity zones it can be hard to find a doctor or dentist who’s practicing in the community?

East Carolina University, through its well-regarded medical school and now with its new School of Dental Medicine, seeks to address that problem. Recruiting focuses on in-state students, especially those willing to forgo the amenities of living in the Triangle, say, so they can use their expertise to care for people in out-of-the-way places where health care professionals have been few and far between.

The dental school has developed a model that holds great promise. It plans a network of 10 “community service learning centers” in underserved areas around the state. Each center will function as a dental clinic, and advanced students will rotate through a set of them as part of their training. A full-time faculty dentist will be assigned to each clinic.

Besides bringing dental care to local residents, the clinics will let students sample the lifestyle that goes along with practicing in a small town – a lifestyle that has its own special rewards. Understandably, demand for the clinics’ services looks to be strong. This training and care model represents an excellent return on the public’s investment in ECU and highlights the university’s dedication to its mission.

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