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Creighton meets need for Native dentists

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OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton University is meeting a crippling need for Native American dentists and addressing a persistent health disparity head on. There are more than 4.5 million Native Americans in the United States but fewer than 150 Native American dentists to serve this population.

“The key to providing better access to dental care in underserved populations is to recruit students from the communities themselves. If a student has a strong tribal affiliation when they enter a profession, they are much more likely to return to the reservations to provide health care to their people,” said Frank Ayers, D.D.S., associate dean for student affairs and director of admissions.

Creighton’s School of Dentistry has enrolled four, first-year Native American students this year, and four have already been accepted for next year. With only 30 Native American dental students enrolled in 56 dental schools in the United States, Creighton’s dental program has the highest number of first-year Native American students enrolled in the nation.

In spring 2008, Creighton and two other Jesuit, Catholic universities, Marquette and Gonzaga, received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Dental Pipeline program to assist with recruitment of Native American students into the nation’s dentistry.

According to Ayers, the grant’s principal investigator, Creighton’s program offers Native American college and high school students an opportunity to attend a month-long summer enrichment program that exposes them to a career in dentistry. Creighton also expanded its pre-dental, post-baccalaureate program for disadvantaged students to include three Native American students each year. After completion of the 13-month program, these students enter dental school. Both efforts provide scholarship money to boost enrollment.

Creighton’s leadership in recruitment of and outreach to underserved populations emanates directly from Jesuit, Catholic values and principles. This year, 69 Native American students are enrolled as full-time students at Creighton in its undergraduate, graduate and professional schools and colleges. The university also provides medical, dental, pharmaceutical and other health services programs at reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota. And the university recently established a Native American Center to coordinate advocacy outreach programs and resources to support this work.