Gallery+Story: Hunt School of Dental Medicine’s Inaugural Class receives White Coats

As the first dental school to open in Texas in more than 50 years, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will have plenty of firsts this year.

On Saturday, Aug. 21, the school’s inaugural class of 40 students received their first white coats during a special ceremony on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus.

The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage welcoming students into the challenging but rewarding health care field. The most important element of the ceremony is the oath that students take to acknowledge and reaffirm their choice to serve patients and deliver compassionate care.

Ed Anderson, partner in NovaDX, and his wife, Sue Anderson, made a generous donation in 2020 to sponsor all the white coats for the school’s inaugural class. Ed Anderson has a long history as an El Paso businessman. In addition to NovaDX, he is president of Diversified Interiors, a commercial contracting company he founded 40 years ago.

“West Texas, especially El Paso, has faced a shortage of dentists and access to oral health care for years. The Hunt School of Dental Medicine is closing the gap by educating future generations of dentists, and we’re proud to contribute by making sure every student in the first class has a white coat,” said Ed Anderson’s son, Blake Anderson, CEO of NovaDX. “When these students graduate in four years, they will make a significant impact for our region by serving families across the borderland.”

Hunt School of Dental Medicine Dean Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., introduced the Class of 2025. Woody Hunt, senior chairman of Hunt Companies, Inc. and chairman of the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, delivered remarks at the event. The dental school is named in Woody Hunt’s honor and in recognition of the Hunt Family Foundation’s transformational $25 million gift to establish the school in 2016.

“Our family and Foundation has always been committed to improving the health of the Borderplex region and Texas. We wanted to be part of the solution in addressing the shortage of oral health professionals, which is why we partnered with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso to establish the dental school,” said Hunt.

“We are proud to have worked with Texas Tech and our state leaders in Austin to make today’s ceremony possible and hope that students who graduate from the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine help us build a robust oral health care system in El Paso and across Texas.”

For El Pasoan Paola Olivares Carzoli, receiving a white coat means the world to her because it represents her journey to becoming a dentist.

“It means I’m one step closer to serving vulnerable populations in my community – I see the need and lack of access to oral health education in El Paso,” Olivares Carzoli said. “Becoming a dentist is a continuation of my passion and my family’s legacy and commitment – starting with my grandfather and father who are both dentists in Juarez”

“You represent the future of our great profession,” Dr. Black told the students. “It will be up to you to safeguard its status as a science-based health care profession through a lifetime of constant learning and dedication to improving the oral health of everyone you care for in the future. This will require a commitment to dedicate the best of your minds (knowledge), hands (technical skills) and hearts (compassion for your patients) to the profession of dentistry. By developing these things concurrently here at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, you will be best positioned to become the outstanding oral health care providers I know you will be.”

Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., president of the American Dental Association, also spoke to the students and encouraged them in the profession they are entering and where they will be working.

“Doctors, congratulations on beginning a journey you will never regret,” Dr. Klemmedson said. “I’m certain you will achieve the success you seek, and I challenge you to keep the social contract of our profession that we have worked so hard to earn.”

The keynote speech by Victor Sandoval, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, focused on dentistry being more of a vocation and not just a profession.

“When you consider the real examples of human suffering, we encounter daily I would submit to you that in simple terms we are called upon to perform ordinary miracles with every patient encounter,” Dr. Sandoval said. “Relieving pain and suffering and healing disease, keeping people healthy are all components of this profession. After today may you realize that your goodness is your greatness.”

Across West Texas, many suffer from poor dental health due to a lack of access to affordable care. In 2017, only 50% of El Paso residents visited a dentist. In El Paso County, there’s only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of one dentist for every 1,638.

In the past 10 years, only 22 out of 2,390 Texas dental school graduates have chosen to practice in West Texas. Because most graduating dentists establish their practices in proximity to their dental schools, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in the Paso del Norte region. 

Currently, more than 50% of Texas’ general dentists are located in the five most populated counties, hundreds of miles from West Texas.

As of 2020, El Paso County had 50% less dentists compared to the average for the state of Texas.

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine faculty, as well as 35 community dentists, began student interviews for the school’s inaugural class in September 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The school received over 900 applications for only 40 spots in the class of 2025.

For more info on the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, click here; for our previous coverage, click here.

Photos in gallery by Warren Love/TTUHSC El Paso