September 23, 2013

Off Campus: Dental college will help meet state's need for more caregivers

Sixty-four University of New England students will become the first dentists to be educated in Maine.

By JAMES J. KOELBL Special to the Press Herald

PORTLAND - Stevens Avenue has paved the way for quality education for students from pre-school through college for generations, right here in Portland.

One side of the street houses the campuses of The Children's Center, St. Brigid School and Catherine McAuley High School. A walk along the other side will bring you by Deering High, Longfellow Middle and Lincoln Elementary schools. A short walk beyond that is the University of New England's Portland campus, where alumni of Westbrook Junior College and Westbrook College return each year.

This academic Main Street has grown to include students who want to earn a doctoral degree. Four years ago, UNE welcomed candidates to the new College of Pharmacy, which graduated its first class in May.

Now UNE's Portland campus has welcomed the inaugural class of northern New England's first College of Dental Medicine.

This pioneering class of 64 students has the chance to make history: becoming the first dentists educated in Maine. This is significant because the region needs more dentists, and students are more likely to stay where they are educated.

Our inaugural class includes about two dozen Maine students. One of them, Dustin Nadeau, who grew up in Brunswick, helped build the UNE Oral Health Center as a member of the crew for Allied Construction. He's an example of someone we want to keep in Maine.

At UNE, we are grateful to those who made this opportunity possible for our students. The public-private partnership was launched with a generous lead gift of $2.3 million from Northeast Delta Dental, along with the crucial support of many in Maine's dental community.

Supporters include Maine voters, who passed a bond referendum in November 2010 that made way for a state dental bond of $3.5 million that UNE applied for and was awarded.

As UNE President Danielle Ripich has said, "UNE is uniquely qualified to open the first College of Dental Medicine in the region."

A graduate program in oral health joins medical, pharmacy, public health, dental hygiene and allied health programs.

This interprofessional health education learning environment provides students with the opportunity to become knowledgeable about the many issues related to access to care, health policy and public health, and to work together as members of the health care team to ultimately provide the best patient care.

First and foremost, UNE's new College of Dental Medicine is an educational institution where students will become ethical, caring and competent oral health care providers.

We have implemented a robust community education program, with a focus in the fourth year on extensive clinical experience in a distributed, community-based clinical learning environment across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The UNE Oral Health Center is the clinical teaching center for our College of Dental Medicine, where students will have the opportunity to participate in the delivery of care to patients as part of their educational experience, under the supervision of experienced and licensed dental faculty.

We anticipate that limited oral health care services will be provided beginning in January. Initially, care will be delivered by a limited number of faculty members until students enter fully into patient care late in their second year of the program in spring/summer 2015.

Patient needs will continue to be met at UNE's newly renovated dental hygiene clinic. A learning laboratory for students in the dental hygiene program, also housed on the Portland campus, the clinic has provided low-cost dental hygiene services to more than 5,000 Portland-area residents each year.

Once the college is fully operational, we expect faculty and students to provide about 12,000 to 15,000 patient visits per year in the Oral Health Center, with an additional 20,000 to 25,000 visits per year provided in the community-based network.

Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to prepare the curriculum and facilities in anticipation for this first class of dental students. We appreciate the opportunity to deliver the best-educated dentists to serve the region, and continue the hallmark of educational excellence on Stevens Avenue, right here in Portland. 

Dr. James J. Koelbl is founding dean of the University of New England College of Dental Medicine.

 

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