WesternU College of Dental Medicine receives federal grant to increase faculty diversity

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Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine (CDM) received nearly $1 million in federal funding to increase diversity in the dental workforce and provide equitable oral health care in rural and underserved areas.

“The faculty loan repayment program dovetails with other efforts supporting diversity in the College and represents a tangible commitment to a more representative workforce in dentistry,” said WesternU College of Dental Medicine Dean and Professor Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS.

Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine (CDM) received nearly $1 million in federal funding to increase diversity in the dental workforce and provide equitable oral health care in rural and underserved areas.

CDM was awarded a HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) Dental Faculty Loan Repayment Program (DFLRP) grant for 2021-26 totaling $997,000, based on available federal funds. The purpose of the grant is to attract, recruit, and retain highly qualified and committed full-time dental faculty from the disciplines of general, pediatric, or public health dentistry who are representative of a diverse patient population and workforce in order to meet the crucial need for equitable oral health care. The Project Director is CDM Professor and Associate Dean for Community Partnerships and Access to Care Marisa Watanabe, DDS, MS, and the Co-Project Director is CDM Assistant Professor Jamie Parado, DDS.

“In garnering this award, Dr. Watanabe and Dr. Parado have provided another opportunity for WesternU and the College to broaden our efforts to build a profession that mirrors the face of the nation,” said College of Dental Medicine Dean and Professor Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS. “The faculty loan repayment program dovetails with other efforts supporting diversity in the College and represents a tangible commitment to a more representative workforce in dentistry.”

Eligible CDM faculty will have the opportunity to apply for a subaward in which 100% of the faculty’s remaining dental school loan debt will be re-paid at the conclusion of the five-year grant. One of the selected faculty for the subaward must be a pediatric dentist and any additional faculty subaward(s) will be for a general or public health dentist. Furthermore, the eligible CDM faculty must be from a disadvantaged background.

The goal is to increase faculty diversity, offset increased student loan debt, and narrow the pay gap; sustain diversity, loan repayment, mentorship, and support for career development; and strengthen strategic partnerships to support the CDM Diversity-DFLRP goals.

The attrition rate of health educators is about 42 percent, mainly due to high student debt, Parado said.

“There is often a large disparity between academia and private practice income,” she said. “The hope is that the CDM Diversity-DFLRP would attract and retain talented, community dentistry-focused individuals to the College. By providing outstanding dental education, these faculty may inspire some of our students to enter into academia themselves, building an educator pipeline to continually improve dental education throughout the nation.”

California has the greatest number of dentists in the nation, yet two million Californians live in a health professionals shortage area, Parado said.

“Studies show underrepresented minority (URM) students are more likely to attend dental institutions with a diverse faculty. At the same time, underrepresented minority dentists are more likely to serve minority communities or within dental health professional shortage areas,” she said. “If we’re able to raise a more diverse faculty through the CDM Diversity-DFLRP, then we can attract, retain, and graduate a dental workforce uniquely situated to promote greater health equity in underserved populations.”

Another goal of the grant is to support and encourage dentists who serve as preceptors at community-based sites, Watanabe said.

“As part of the DFLRP process, we are looking for full-time faculty who are first generation college students, who have lived in rural areas, or from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. In particular, we are looking for faculty who are engaged in providing care to medically underserved communities while also being passionate about teaching and overseeing our students,” Watanabe said. “This also shows faculty - either current, newly-hired, or recruited faculty – in a different light outside the four walls of the dental institution. CDM Diversity-DFLRP further provides a pipeline opportunity among WesternU alumni who are interested in integrating academia and community dentistry into their future. With CDM’s HRSA Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students and newly-acquired DFLRP funding, the cycle of supporting a diverse health care workforce beyond the predoctoral years is inspiring and motivating. The selected faculty will be those who best parallel our College mission of providing care to those most in need. We encourage all who are eligible and inspired to apply and be the change in workforce diversity and capacity while improving oral health equity.”

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