by Natalie GutierrezAccording to an article in the Journal of Dental Education, the number of vacant budgeted dental faculty positions nationwide is approaching 400. Aging faculty members will exacerbate the shortage as they retire.
The Health Science Center leads national efforts to retain and increase the number of faculty members, especially minority faculty, in dental schools across the nation through its D.D.S./Ph.D. program. The program is a collaborative effort between the Dental School and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Students are prepared for careers in dental academics through a unique clinician-scientist training program. Students apply course work in the dental and graduate schools to satisfy required work in each degree program leading to the awarding of both a D.D.S. and a Ph.D. in a biomedical science.
"Dental education is facing a crisis related to the number of faculty members who will be available in the future," said Kenneth Kalkwarf, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the Dental School. "The D.D.S./Ph.D. program allows qualified students to pursue a quality education that prepares them to step into careers in academic dentistry. We’re excited about the roles these individuals will play in the future."
The revitalized D.D.S./Ph.D. program celebrated its first graduate in 2003. Dental School administrators report a 71 percent enrollment of Hispanic students in the program.
Cara Knight, D.D.S./Ph.D., was the first to graduate from the program. "The dual-degree program has given me great job satisfaction because I love treating patients and I love the basic sciences," Dr. Knight said. "Success in the program means working hard to obtain funding, get published, generate new data, maintain clinical skills and find excellent mentors. If students can do all of these things, they’ll have many career opportunities. I hope to help future students avoid potential roadblocks."
Students have the opportunity to participate in the Dental School’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research-sponsored Craniofacial Oral-Biology Student Training in Academic Research (CO-STAR) program. As undergraduates, many students train in the Minority Biomedical Research Support programs at The University of Texas at San Antonio.
In addition, students are encouraged to participate in national and international research competitions and have succeeded in earning top awards. In 2003, 40 percent of the national finalists for the American and International Association for Dental Research (AADR/IADR) student research competitions were from the Health Science Center. They earned top honors in all categories. This year, five students were selected as national finalists and will compete at the 2005 AADR meeting in Baltimore, Md.
"The fact that our students are earning top national research awards attests to the commitment of our dean and our faculty to train students in cutting-edge research that is competitive at a national level," Mary MacDougall, Ph.D., said.
Bobby Cortez is in his second year of the D.D.S./Ph.D. program. "I am grateful for the program because I have a strong desire to be an educator and researcher and to practice dentistry," Cortez said. "One of my greatest desires is to become a dental faculty member so I can mentor and train students. I’ll never forget the guidance of my own mentors at the Health Science Center. They inspired me to want to be a good example to others."
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