EL PASO, Texas – Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) has received a $6 million grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation (PDNHF) to support its new dental school.
"We are incredibly grateful to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation for supporting us in this endeavor," said TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A. "Our shared mission of improving the health and quality of life for residents in this bi-national region will only strengthen our cause: to bring a dental school to El Paso that will change the face of health care in West Texas."
The multimillion-dollar grant will fund the development of a unique, community-centered curriculum for the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine (WLHSODM) — the first dental school on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Unlike traditional rote-based learning, the WLHSODM curriculum will focus on service education, a form of teaching that encourages meaningful community service. The approach results in one-of-a-kind, hands-on experiences that allow students to apply their newfound knowledge and skills to life beyond the classroom, while simultaneously helping the community.
"We are excited to be part of a leadership opportunity to bring a dental school to the region," said Jose Prieto Jr., M.D., board chair of the PDNHF. "Poor dental care has been linked to numerous chronic disorders that can be prevented with education and early detection."
As part of the community-based teaching approach, a low-cost dental health clinic will be established in central El Paso. There, students will train with WLHSODM faculty and provide affordable dental services to one of the city's most underserved communities.
Additional training opportunities will take place at local private practice dentists' offices, as well as clinic sites for organizations that provide affordable dental services to the poor.
As part of the school's mission to improve access to oral health care on the border, faculty and students in the WLHSODM will reach out to rural communities in West Texas. These communities — which currently have few to no dental health professionals — will receive preventive oral health education.
"Our new school of dental medicine is just as much about giving back to the community as it is about providing top-of-the-line, innovative education to future health professionals," said Victoria Pineda, TTUHSC El Paso associate vice chancellor. "This unprecedented show of support represents a shared vision of excellence for the border and a dream that all people in our region will one day have access to health care."
Once established, the WLHSODM is expected to create 100 new, highly-skilled local jobs, infusing an additional $5 million into the El Paso economy in labor income.
"We believe that the health foundation's commitment to the new dental school will increase the awareness of the importance of oral health, support a local supply of future dentists and hygienists, support community dental clinics, provide faculty appointments for local dentists, and contribute to the overall economic growth in the region," says Tracy J. Yellen, CEO of the PDNHF.
The first cohort of 20 future dentists will be admitted in 2020. By 2023, the WLHSODM is expected to admit its first class of dental hygienists; the two-year program will educate dental professionals on how to work closely alongside the school's newly graduated dentists. At full capacity, the WLHSODM will graduate 75 dentists and 60 dental hygienists per year.
The development of the new dental school is expected to cost between $50 and $60 million. $31 million, however, has already been raised, thanks to a generous gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, and now, the PDNHF.
About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso:
TTUHSC El Paso became a standalone university in 2013 after separating from TTUHSC in Lubbock. It is the fourth university in the Texas Tech University System. The health sciences center consists of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing, and the future Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine.