Bluefield College plans dental school for Appalachian region, enrolling for 2015
The Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine plans to accept its first class of 60 students in 2015.
"The school has recently turned from an idea to the beginning of reality," said Dr. Francis G. Serio, whom Bluefield College named its inaugural dental school dean last month.
The college has not applied for accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation but is planning to do so. "We are literally just starting, and I am the first hire. Our plan is to have the application for initial accreditation filed by March of 2014."
He added that Bluefield College is engaged in the process of receiving appropriate accreditation approvals from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges before accepting its first class.
The new school is envisioned as an institution that will train individuals to provide critical dentistry needs to the underserved; address the growing shortage of dentists and dental care professionals in southwest Virginia and central Appalachia; conduct community-based research; and spur economic development.
"This position allows me the opportunity to help bring a tremendous resource to southwest Virginia that will train general dentists for the region and help set up a system to provide care not only at the dental school clinic in Bluefield, but also across the region in select community health centers," said Dr. Serio, who is currently a professor of dentistry, interim vice dean and associate dean for clinical affairs at the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine.
The college intends to contract with a network of existing CHCs in southwest Virginia, many of which do not currently offer dental care. As a community-based school, Dr. Serio said Bluefield College "will be looking at community-based research, such as research into demographic disease patterns. I see us doing more public health research to improve oral health in communities, not traditional applied science or basic science research."
In a statement, Bluefield College said that Dr. Serio is experienced in dental school development and administration, having worked with ECU during the construction of its new dental school building and the opening of the school in 2011, and has a strong commitment to providing care to the underserved.
"We are blessed to have Dr. Frank Serio coming as the inaugural dean of the School of Dental Medicine at Bluefield College," said BC President David Olive. "His vast experience, including the launch of a new dental program at ECU, and his heart for service and lifelong commitment to giving back to the community make him the ideal person to found this new program."
Dr. Serio is an editor of and contributor to the International Dental Volunteer Guide, an ADA publication that educates dental practitioners about volunteer opportunities. He is the founder and past director of the Dominican Dental Mission Project, a volunteer program providing dental care to the rural poor of the Dominican Republic, which garnered the President's Volunteer Action Award from President George H.W. Bush and Daily Points of Light Award from President George W. Bush.
Between construction of a dental school facility, hiring of staff and bringing in students, Dr. Serio said the new school will also help boost economic development in the region. Tazewell County officials have collaborated with Bluefield College on plans for the school.
"This dental school is important to Tazewell County and our region," said Jim Spencer, county administrator for Tazewell County. "I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Serio a few weeks ago and spend some time with him. I was impressed with his abilities and vision for the new school. This is a huge step forward with the announcement [of his appointment] being made today."