LITTLE ROCK – The leadership of the Arkansas State Dental Association voted last Friday to concur with the development of a formal plan for a public college of dentistry through the University of Arkansas system, and to assist the system for the creation of an external advisory committee to participate in the planning process.
Acting on a letter from UAMS Chancellor, Dr. Dan Rahn, the Executive Council of the association voted unanimously to assist UAMS as it begins the formal process of developing a plan. “The projected need for future dentists in Arkansas and the skyrocketing costs and debt that Arkansas students are experiencing as they pursue their dental education out of state both create a strong case for Arkansas having its own college of dentistry,” Rahn wrote. “It is entirely consistent with UAMS’s mission and scope that we take the lead in the planning process.”
UA System President Dr. Don Bobbitt made the presentation to the association, stating that serious consideration of a dental school will require both a significant donation from private sources, and the full support of the Arkansas legislature. Bobbitt had already granted permission for UAMS to engage a consultant to assist in the planning process. During the presentation, two other UAMS officials, Dr. William Slagle, director of the Center for Dental Education, and associate director Dr. Gene Jines commented on the unique nature of this request. According to Slagle, who is Dean Emeritus of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry (UT), educational institutions almost never ask to partner with the dental community in matters such as the creation of a school. “This is a unique situation,” he said, “and I applaud Dr. Bobbitt and Dr. Rahn for their willingness to seek input from the association on this very important issue.” Slagle informed the group that the national average for dental student debt is now $240,000, adding that the figure is much higher for many Arkansas students who must travel out of state for their dental education.
The council was quick to confirm that the agreement does not mean that a school will definitely be created, only that the UA system will begin the process of developing and academic and financial plan contingent upon a generous private gift(s) and the willingness of the Arkansas legislature to provide operational support.
As for the agreement regarding the development of a plan for a possible dental school, ASDA President Dr. Dwight Duckworth of Springdale told the group that this was the next logical step considering ASDA’s existing policy which states that if a dental school is to be built in Arkansas it should be a public institution administered by the UA system. Rumors of a possible private dental school in conjunction with the new osteopathic medical school in Fort Smith have led to new interest in the creation of a public program.
This agreement between UAMS and the dentists is not their first foray into dental education. In 2009, UAMS created the Center for Dental Education, which has created a dental clinic at UAMS and hosted numerous dental students from UT for clinical rotations at UAMS and Childrens’ Hospital. The CDE has recently welcomed its first two residents into the graduate practice residency, a fully accredited 12 month post graduate training program for new dentists. If all goes well, new residency programs may be added in pediatric dentistry and oral & maxillofacial surgery.
Rahn is expected to name the members of the external advisory committee in the near future.