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Texas program targets Hispanics for dental careers

San Antonio—An initiative that has taken steps toward increasing the number of Hispanic dental professionals will continue, thanks to a $1.8 million federal grant.

Since 2001, the Hispanic Center of Excellence-Dentistry has enabled the University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio Dental School to pursue a wide range of initiatives and programs that help recruit and retain Hispanic dental students and faculty.

Such programs are critical to building a more diverse health care workforce, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funds the centers to help health professions schools support programs of excellence in education for minorities.

"I felt the center's creation was critical to support the creation of opportunities for Hispanic young people to move into careers in dentistry and academic dentistry," said Dr. Kenneth L. Kalkwarf, dean of the dental school at UTHSCSA, which also offers centers for Hispanic students in medicine and nursing.

"We had been looking at the demographic changes that are occurring here in Texas and across the country, and one of the ethnicities growing very rapidly is Hispanics," added Dr. Ramon J. Baez, director of the Hispanic Center of Excellence-Dentistry.

"Currently, Hispanic dentists are less than 5 percent of the dental workforce," said Dr. Baez. "HRSA's Centers for Excellence offer an opportunity to develop programs that target specific minority groups: African-American, Native American and Hispanic-American. Here in San Antonio there is a large population of Hispanics, and that is where we concentrate our efforts."

With results, too. Since 2001, 80 percent of Hispanic pre-dental students who went through the Center for Excellence were accepted into dental school. One hundred percent of Hispanic dental students have graduated in that same timeframe.

"Several students in our D.D.S. program and our D.D.S./Ph.D. program began their journey with experiences sponsored by the center," said Dr. Kalkwarf. "The program is also offering faculty development and enrichment opportunities to young Hispanic faculty members, preparing them for more productive academic careers and leadership positions."

Some examples of programs offered through the Hispanic Center of Excellence:

  • Pre-dental students are acquainted with dental school through support during the application process and prep courses for the DAT.
  • Dental students receive tutoring, research opportunities and clinical work in rural or urban communities.
  • The center promotes dental faculty development through courses in teaching skills, research and workshops that help guide faculty into specific areas of expertise.

One faculty member served by the center is Dr. Rosie Roldan, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Pediatrics, who participates in the center's program that encourages junior faculty to engage in research and educational development for future promotion and retention.

"The fellowship has given me the opportunity to attend multiple educational programs on conducting a research project," said Dr. Roldan, who earned an M.D. through a San Antonio program that combines pediatric dentistry and medicine through an internship in pediatric medicine.

"Since then I have been involved in many research projects and have been able to mentor pediatric dental residents as they complete a mandatory research project," added Dr. Roldan. "My interest has now shifted into writing a manuscript for publication, as this is a venue to share my findings in the research projects in which I have been involved."

A native of Puerto Rico, Dr. Roldan is also a member of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, the ADA program designed to enhance leadership skills of dentists who belong to racial, ethnic and/or gender backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles (