Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec. 7, 2017 -– The School of Dentistry has the unusual distinction this year of having four students who received a highly competitive national scholarship that commits health professionals to practice in medically underserved communities after graduation.
The four students – one in each DDS class – were selected for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program. It pays their full tuition and a monthly living expense stipend; in return, the students commit to working from two to four years in communities that the federal government has identified as having limited access to primary care.
The dentistry students and their graduation years are Devan Moody, 2018; Rachael Vernon, 2019; Jordan Brown, 2020; and Michael O’Brien, 2021.
Renée Duff, Assistant Dean for Student Services, said U-M students have received the scholarship in the past, but it is unusual to have one in every class at the same time. The competitive scholarship is offered to students being trained as dentists, physicians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants. In recent years, more than 2,200 applicants from those medical professions were vying for only about 180-200 scholarships awarded nationwide, depending on fluctuations within the federal budget.
“It is a definite testament to their hard work, academic achievement, and commitment to community,” Duff said of the four dental students who received the scholarship. “We are seeing more and more of our students drawn to the idea of taking their dentistry careers to communities with the greatest need. This scholarship program, which pays the students’ tuition, sometimes for all four years, is extremely beneficial for the students and the people who most need their professional care.”
Scholarship recipients are chosen based on several criteria, including exceptional financial need, whether they are likely to continue to serve in a high-need area once their obligation is complete, high academic achievement, disadvantaged background, essays and letters of recommendation.
The NHSC is administered within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to bring primary health care to areas of the United States with limited access. Since its inception in 1972, more than 50,000 medical, dental and behavioral health professionals have served. Currently, there are about 10,000 NHSC members providing care to nearly 11 million people at more than 5,000 health care sites in urban and rural sites around the country.
Scholarship recipients must complete their service obligation at one of what the NHSC calls a Health Professional Shortage Area. That can be a geographic area, population group, public or nonprofit private medical facility or other public facility for the delivery of health services, including federal or state correctional institutions. The areas have been determined by the HHS Secretary to have a shortage of health professionals. Factors include health provider-to-population ratios, rates of poverty, and access to available health care services. As students approach graduation, they receive assistance as they seek out jobs in those areas. They are free to choose which areas to apply to.
Devan Moody, a D4 who graduates next spring, said the scholarship is of obvious benefit in paying for dental school, particularly for the out-of-state tuition he faces as an Alaska native and resident. But equally important, he said, is that his work will assist people who need it most. He notes that Alaska has a large underserved population. “I saw first-hand the problems that limited access to care can cause,” he said. “And I was interested in providing service to this group of people in order to give something back to people who truly need and deserve it.”
Moody has received the scholarship for all four years of dental school, so he will be paying it back with four years of dental service starting next year. He has been looking at job options in the Saginaw area but hasn’t committed yet. “I will likely end up at a Federally Qualified Health Center, because they do the most work with underserved populations,” he said. “I think I would like to stay in Michigan, but going back to Alaska is not completely out of the picture.”
Rachael Vernon, a D3, said she knew she would apply for the NHSC scholarship even before she knew which dental school she would attend. “I applied for the scholarship because my long-term goal is to serve as a public health-minded dentist and lead a dental team whose mission will be to increase access to dental care and build trusting relationships with a diverse group of patients,” she said. The scholarship means that she will be able to focus her career on “increasing access to dental care, aiding in the creation and maintenance of dental non-profits, and leading federally qualified health centers rather than focusing on paying back loans.”
Jordan Brown, a D2, said his family experience is what steered him to the idea of serving the underserved as a dentist. Various members of his family had dental problems, including an aunt who was embarrassed to smile because of a missing tooth. Whether it is a more serious oral condition or cosmetic, people in all parts of society should have access to good dental care, Brown said. “A smile is ubiquitous across all cultures, ages, and languages, and the idea of someone feeling embarrassed of something so universal is heartbreaking,” he said. “As a general dentist, my skillset encompasses the knowledge to rectify these problems to facilitate healthier and more enjoyable lives. I wholeheartedly believe I have a moral responsibility to society to promote the health of all people and communities and I am eager to begin my NHSC commitment.”
First-year student Michael O’Brien said he applied for the scholarship to finance dental school, but by the time he got to dental school he had plenty of experience with underserved communities and knew that was the direction he wanted to take his career. His hometown is the small town of Empire, Mich., which gave him opportunities unavailable to the children he tutored in Detroit as an undergrad at U-M. “Listening to how they perceived the world and the goals they had, made me realize all of the opportunities that I had growing up. I was placed in a position to succeed while they were at a disadvantage,” he said of his time working with the Detroit Partnership.
O’Brien also joined an undergrad service trip to Peru, where a group worked on health concerns in rural villages where many residents had never seen a doctor. “Seeing the disparity in health literacy and basic hygiene imparted the profound effect access to care has on a population,” he said. “Being part of the solution and helping those that are in need the most is something that motivates me to be a better dentist and work at a Federally Qualified Health Center.”
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.
Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (734) 615-1971.