The Northern Arizona University (NAU) dental hygiene program has received a $3.25 million grant from the Health Resources Services Administration Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program to support and promote diversity in the profession.
Scholarships will be available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who demonstrate a financial need and include those who are a part of racial and ethnic minority groups.
“Ninety percent of the NAU dental hygiene students who enrolled from 2015 to 2019 were from an educationally, environmentally, and/or economically disadvantaged background, having difficult barriers to overcome to achieve their education,” said Denise Helm, a professor in the Department of Dental Hygiene and principal investigator on the grant.
“These scholarships will help students focus on their academic endeavors,” said Helm, who worked with Eli Villareal, co-principal investigator, department chair, and director of physician assistant studies, on the grant.
This year, the grants will cover at least half of tuition costs for about 40 students in the dental hygiene program. Over the next five years, Helm said, about 200 dental hygiene students will receive funding from the grant.
Widening recruitment opportunities does two things, NAU said. First, it allows more diverse students into the program. Second, it gives those students the opportunity to take the knowledge they gain back to their communities.
“Tooth decay remains the number one preventable childhood disease. Healthcare professionals who are from a diverse background tend to select practice locations in health professional shortage areas, underserved areas, and primary care,” said Helm.
“And, health professions students who participate in internships and clinical rotation in those areas are more inclined to return to that or a similar area to practice after graduation,” said Helm.
“NAU dental hygiene graduates serving in areas where there is a great need will help to address oral care disparities that are so prevalent in those communities,” she said.