University Of California San Francisco Dental School Launches Pilot Program For Pre-Dental Students

September 25, 1998

The University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry has launched a program aimed at helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into dental school -- and hopefully boost the number of dentists serving underserved populations as a result.

The UCSF pilot program, called the Dental Post-Bac Program, is the first program in the country designed to help students from a range of circumstances become successful dentists. There are similar programs for potential medical students at University of California campuses in Davis, Irvine and San Diego. The UCSF program, as well as the UC medical school programs, is funded through a grant by The California Endowment, a foundation sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The goal of the dentistry program is two-fold, UCSF officials said. One goal is to give students who have the potential to become successful dentists, but have been hindered by educational, cultural or social disadvantages, the additional training they need to pursue the career.

In doing so, though, program organizers also hope to increase underserved populations' access to dental care. One of the ways that will be achieved, they said, is by admitting to the program students who have already demonstrated a commitment to working in their communities -- and a desire to continue doing so as a dentist.

"We have a strong sense that the students in the program are going to make a different kind of provider," said Harvey Brody, DDS, UCSF clinical professor of dentistry and the program's associate director. "These are wonderful, hard working young men and women who want to go back and serve their communities." Students, who all must have completed their undergraduate college education and recently been rejected from dental school, must prove they have the ability to succeed in dental school academically. But they also must show there was some overriding factor that hindered their ability to get into dental school the first time around, said Charles Alexander, PhD, UCSF School of Dentistry assistant dean and the program's director.

That could mean, Alexander said, that applicants didn't have access to primary or secondary schools with high academic standards or educational resources. Or, they may have had to cope with family circumstances, such as financial hardships, that made it impossible for them to focus solely on school, he said. Those situations are explored through written statements, personal interviews and references.

Applicants also must show that they are dedicated to the idea of becoming dentists -- and demonstrate a willingness to work in disadvantaged communities, which commonly don't have enough access to dental care even when there are other public health programs in the commy.

Applicants often demonstrate that commitment through their activities, frequently by working as leading volunteers or health workers in communities that are medically underserved.

Once accepted into the Dental Post-Bac Program, students spend a year honing their academic and learning skills so they are better prepared when they reapply to dental school. Doing that includes attending upper-division undergraduate science courses at University of California, Berkeley and special seminars at UCSF. Students also will observe working dentists in non-traditional settings, such as community and convalescent hospitals. They also will receive help in applying to dental schools of their choice and improving interviewing skills. This year, there are five students enrolled in the program. There will be as many as 20 each year in the future.

Funding the program is in keeping with The California Endowment's goal of improving the health status of Californians by increasing access to health care, foundation leaders said. "This grant is part of a series of investments being made by The California Endowment to enhance the health of Californians," said Steven Uranga McKane, the Endowment's president. "It will further our mission of expanding access to health care to underserved populations and improving the healthy lives of all Californians."

The program also is part of the UCSF School of Dentistry's continuing efforts to diversify the field of dentistry by attracting people from a range of backgrounds to it. The School of Dentistry has an active outreach program that reaches undergraduate, high school and elementary school students.

University of California - San Francisco

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