Florida Universities Tweak Dental School Proposals

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, October 25, 2011 -

Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

After two universities pitched a plan in September to open new dental schools in Florida, the unsatisfied governing board for the State University System told the universities to come back in two months with more information.

Their main critique was that neither plan sufficiently addressed the problem of how to bring more dentists to underserved, rural areas. A recent Department of Health study said the existing dental schools in Florida sufficiently meet demand and that dentists are needed primarily in rural areas.

Florida A&M University and the University of Central Florida submitted their revised plans for new dental schools to the Board of Governors late Friday in preparation for a meeting in early November.

Both bolstered their plans by partnering with the University of Florida, the state's only public university to offer a dental school. But that is where the similarities end.

Florida A&M presented a scaled-back version of its original proposal.

Instead of building its own dental school using state funds, it would establish programs to funnel more minority students into University of Florida's dental school.

This is a dramatic difference from the university's push earlier in the year to get approval for its own dental school, going so far as to bring Tallahassee's mayor and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee to the September board meeting in Miami.

"They realized with a budget shortfall in this state it probably wasn't likely they would get support for a dental school at this time," said Teresa Dolan, the dean of UF's College of Dentistry.

The University of Central Florida kept much of its original proposal the same. It still plans to use a $10 million donation, a loan from itself, and student tuition to fund a new dental school that would begin admitting students in 2014. But the university now plans to use the University of Florida to consult on the new school.

The revised proposal also includes more details for how the university would provide more dentists for underserved areas. The University of Central Florida said it will focus on recruiting students from these underserved areas and will provide its own dental clinic to treat patients in rural areas.

Dolan said the University of Florida would be more involved in FAMU's proposal, which guarantees a pipeline of 12 students to the UF dental school. That would allow the University of Florida to expand its class size from 80 to 92 and expand its clinical-based rotations in underserved areas.

"One of the main goals is to enhance diversity," Dolan said. "By increasing our class size it allows us to participate in the pipeline, but also assign more students to community-based learning."

It remains to be seen whether the skeptical Board of Governors for the State University System will be on board with either proposal as it tries to decide whether there is even a need for more dentists in Florida.

The Department of Health said in a report earlier this year that even without any new schools, an estimated 3,054 new dentists will be added to Florida's workforce every decade, enough to offset dentists that leave the profession through the year 2050.

But UCF disagrees with the study, saying in its own analysis it has determined that up to 450 new dentists will be needed through 2050, more than twice the number already produced by Florida's dental schools.

There are two dental schools in Florida. Besides UF, private Nova Southeastern University has a dental school and the Lake Erie College of Medicine plans to open a dental school in Fall 2012.


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