The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine began interviewing applicants for its inaugural class on September 16, welcoming the first 18 potential students to new facilities on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus.
Due to the pandemic, applicants have the option of virtual or in-person interviews. Six more potential students were interviewed virtually on September 17. Additional interviews are scheduled throughout the fall and into January 2021.
“We’re one of the few, if any, dental schools offering in-person interviews right now. We’re offering them because we’re a brand new institution, and these applicants will be the first to see our campus and all the new equipment and labs,” said Cyd Goldfarb, MEd, senior director of admissions and recruitment.
“They will also have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the El Paso community and how welcoming our city is. It’s important for our potential students to understand the region they may be serving,” said Goldfarb.
About 60% of applicants are choosing in-person interviews, Goldfarb added. Each in-person applicant will receive a face mask, and proper social distancing precautions will be observed during all in-person visits, the school said.
Set to open in 2021, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will be the fourth dental school in Texas and the first to open in the state in more than 50 years as well as the first on the US-Mexico border.
The school will be located in the Medical Sciences Building II, a new facility on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus where students will train in the Dental Learning Center.
The center will feature 80 stations equipped with high-tech simulation manikins and a fabrication lab for crafting dental appliances using 3-D scanners and advanced CAD/CAM machines, the school said.
Students also will gain real-world experience in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, a new 38,000-square-foot facility that will be equipped with 130 treatment chairs and is expected to be the top dental-care destination for the public as well as faculty, staff, students, and their families, the school said.
The first pool of applicants comprises strong and diverse candidates from all over Texas, including the El Paso area and other parts of West Texas, where many residents suffer from poor oral health due to lack of access to affordable care, Goldfarb said.
In El Paso County, the school said, there’s only one dentist for every 4,545 residents, compared to the national average of one for every 1,639.
“El Paso is an underserved area in many health professions, but especially in dentistry. However, there are several advantages to someone coming to school here in El Paso,” said Goldfarb.
“We’re brand new, and our curriculum is very innovative and integrated, and our patient population will offer our students plenty of experience. We foresee that our clinic will be well used by patients, so students will have a wide variety of experiences. That’s something they may not have as much access to in another city,” Goldfarb said.
In the past 10 years, only 22 out of 2,390 Texas dental school graduates have chosen to practice in West Texas, the school said. Because most graduating dentists establish practices near their schools, the Hunt School will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in the Paso del Norte region, the school added.
The school will fill 40 spots for its inaugural class. Future classes will have 60 students. The application window is open through the end of October. To help with the application process, 35 El Paso community dentists have volunteered to participate in the interviews.
“Last week, we had a training for community dentists like myself, and, of course, everybody is excited to have a dental school in El Paso, and now we have the opportunity to interview applicants who may be our colleagues one day,” said Paul Ro, DDS, one of the school’s community dentists.
“We’ll be doing interviews every week from here on. It’s going to be non-stop, but we feel it is important for our dental community to welcome the next generation of dentists to El Paso,” said Ro.
The Hunt School of Dental Medicine offers a unique education through culturally competent, hands-on training and an introduction to early clinical experiences among a diverse population, the school said. As part of curriculum requirements, students learn medical Spanish to bridge language and cultural barriers and deliver the highest quality of oral healthcare, the school said.
“There’s plenty of excitement, and applicants are enthusiastic about the buzz we’ve created for our school. It’s a different curriculum, which mirrors the Foster School of Medicine’s curriculum,” said Richard Black, DDS, MS, dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
“For example, students will start working on patients during their first semester,” Black said. “One of the concerns of dental school graduates is that they feel they didn’t get enough practice. Our students will get more experience by starting in the clinic sooner. They will learn by seeing patients in the clinic, under the supervision of our faculty.”