On Tuesday, leaders from El Paso’s higher education and health care communities came together to mark two key milestones on the road to opening the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine, Texas’ first dental school in more than 50 years, at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.
Officials first announced the approval of the school’s Doctor of Dental Medicine degree program by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), followed by the presentation of a $25,000 gift from El Paso dentist Dennis Care, D.D.S., establishing the Care Family Dean’s Dental School Discretionary Fund.
Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., dean of Hunt School of Dental Medicine, and Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A., president of TTUHSC El Paso, announced the THECB’s approval and Dr. Care’s gift during a news conference on the third floor of the university’s new Medical Sciences Building II, where the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will be housed.
Attendees were given a hard-hat tour of the area using virtual reality technology to see what the school and its Dental Learning Center will look like once construction is complete next year.
“With the board’s approval and Dr. Care’s gift to the school, we are another step closer to making our dream of a dental school in El Paso a reality,” said Dr. Black. “The new school will provide local young people with the opportunity to enter a rewarding profession and help address a critical oral health care need in the El Paso community.”
This is the first dental school degree program approved by the THECB for a new dental school, because the THECB did not exist in its
current form when the other three Texas dental schools were established.
The THECB’s approval on Oct. 24 came as TTUHSC El Paso’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine celebrates its 10-year anniversary. The university is also home to the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Through the Foster School of Medicine’s city-wide clinical practice, Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, the health sciences center provides patients with high-quality clinical care in more than a dozen specialties.
“I am proud of everything we are doing to transform health care delivery and education in the Borderplex region,” said Dr. Lange. “Over the past decade, our campus has done more than produce a new generation of health care professionals; it has also changed the way people think about patient care and clinical research in El Paso.”
Local businessman and philanthropist Woody Hunt also spoke at the event.
“Knowing the great need we have in El Paso to provide quality oral health care for our community, it is very exciting to see it so close to reality,” Hunt said. “I hope that Dr. Care’s gift inspires even more members of El Paso’s community to become Friends of the Dental School and invest in this first-class facility.”
TTUHSC El Paso created the Friends of the Dental School to bring together local dentists and other community members who understand the need for improved oral health care in the Borderland.
The group, of which Dr. Care is a member, gets together for social events and updates on the school, helping to ensure a strong relationship between the local dental community and the soon-to-open school.
“I know how important it is for students to access both high-quality training opportunities and the equipment they need to run an effective and efficient dental clinic,” said Dr. Care. “I am honored to play a foundational role in building a culture of opportunity for El Pasoans to return home for dental school and stay to practice. I look forward to helping mentor the next generation of dentists, periodontists and dental hygienists.”
The fund established by Dr. Care’s gift will be used to support, at the dean’s discretion, projects and initiatives that will advance the school’s mission of alleviating the documented shortage of dentists within the El Paso and West Texas regions.
Dr. Care is a second-generation dentist in El Paso. His father, Ronald Care, D.D.S., has been a practicing dentist in El Paso for more than 40 years. Dr. Care noted his two-year-old son may choose to follow his father and grandfather in the dental profession.
“If he does, I’m glad he will be able to study close to home,” Dr. Care said.
Earlier this year, the Texas legislature passed legislation to make the Hunt School of Dental Medicine a reality at TTUHSC El Paso.
The school, scheduled to welcome its first class of students in 2021, will be the first dental school in West Texas, the fourth in the state of Texas and first on the U.S.-Mexico border.