Photo courtesy WLHSDM
The Hunt School of Dental Medicine began interviewing applicants for its inaugural class this week, welcoming the first 18 potential students to new facilities on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, applicants are being given the option of virtual or in-person interviews. Wednesday, eighteen chose to be in the inaugural group to visit the first dental school to open in Texas in over 50 years, while six more will interview virtually on Friday.
Interviews are scheduled throughout the fall and into January 2021. Each in-person applicant will be given a face mask, and proper social distancing precautions will be observed during all in-person visits.
“We’re one of the few, if any, dental schools offering in-person interviews right now. We’re offering them because we’re a brand new institution, and these applicants will be the first to see our campus and all the new equipment and labs. They will also have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the El Paso community and how welcoming our city is. It’s important for our potential students to understand the region they may be serving,” said Cyd Goldfarb, M.Ed., senior director of admissions and recruitment for the school. “Right now about 60% of applicants are choosing in-person interviews.”
Goldfarb said the first pool of applicants is made up of strong and diverse candidates who come from all of Texas, including the El Paso area and other parts of West Texas, where many residents suffer from poor dental health due to lack of access to affordable care.
In El Paso County, there’s only one dentist for every 4,545 residents, compared to the national average of one for every 1,639.
“El Paso is an underserved area in many health professions, but especially in dentistry,” Goldfarb said. “However, there are several advantages to someone coming to school here in El Paso. We’re brand new and our curriculum is very innovative and integrated, and our patient population will offer our students plenty of experience. We foresee that our clinic will be well used by patients, so students will have a wide variety of experiences. That’s something they may not have as much access to in another city.”
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 practices in proximity to their schools, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in the Paso del Norte region.
The school will fill 40 spots for the inaugural class and future classes will have 60 students. The application window is still open until the end of October with interviews expected to continue every week through January.
To help with the application process, 35 El Paso community dentists have volunteered to participate in the interviews.
“Last week, we had a training for community dentists like myself, and of course, everybody is excited to have a dental school in El Paso and now we have the opportunity to interview applicants who may be our colleagues one day,” said Paul Ro, D.D.S. and one of the school’s community dentists. “We’ll be doing interviews every week from here on. It’s going to be non-stop, but we feel it is important for our dental community to welcome the next generation of dentists to El Paso.”
School officials share that the Hunt School of Dental Medicine offers a “unique education for students through culturally competent, hands-on training and an introduction to early clinical experiences among a diverse population.”
As part of curriculum requirements, dental students learn medical Spanish, allowing them to bridge language and cultural barriers to deliver the highest quality of oral health care.
“There’s plenty of excitement, and applicants are enthusiastic about the buzz we’ve created for our school. It’s a different curriculum, which mirrors the Foster School of Medicine’s curriculum,” said Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
“For example, students will start working on patients during their first semester. One of the concerns of dental school graduates is that they feel they didn’t get enough practice. Our students will get more experience by starting in the clinic sooner. They will learn by seeing patients in the clinic, under the supervision of our faculty.”
In June 2019, Texas lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the 2020-2021 state budget into law, which included a $20 million appropriation to support the establishment of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
During the 86th legislative session, El Paso’s legislative delegation and representatives of TTUHSC El Paso and the Texas Tech University System made the case that a dental school in El Paso would significantly improve the region’s access to quality oral health care.
In October 2019, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine reached another milestone, growing closer to opening its doors to the inaugural class of future dentists in 2021.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the school’s Doctor of Dental Medicine degree program during the board’s quarterly meeting in Austin.
On January 30, 2020, the school received initial accreditation of its Doctor of Dental Medicine degree program from the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Having received approval of the doctoral program from the THECB, and approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, this was the final accreditation necessary to open the school.
Set to open in 2021, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will be the fourth dental school in the state of Texas and the first on the U.S.-Mexico border. The school will be housed in the Medical Sciences Building II, a new building on the TTUHSC El Paso campus where students will train in the Dental Learning Center.
The center will feature 80 stations equipped with high-tech simulation manikins and a fabrication lab for crafting dental appliances using 3D scanners and advanced CAD/CAM machines.
Students will receive a world class education in the classroom and gain real world experience at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, a new 38,000 square-foot clinic that will be equipped with 130 treatment chairs and is expected to be the top dental-care destination, not only for the public, but for faculty, staff, students and their families.