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Bridge to Dentistry

Bridge to Dentistry LogoAs Dr. Ernie Lacy, director of student development, describes them, HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry’s Bridge to Dentistry programs are a “pipeline” for students to enter dentistry. But she and others noticed the pipeline had a leak – until it was filled this summer by a new six-week program for fresh high school graduates.

Funded through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Pre-College Summer Predental Enrichment Program targeted incoming freshmen who are already enrolled at a college for the fall. The first program participants took a college course at El Centro College and earned preclinical experience at HSC-BCD. Students also shadowed local dentists and health care workers during the program.

“One Pre-College SPEP goal was for the students to be involved in community service,” Lacy says. “We want students to be embedded in their communities; we want to instill in them a passion for serving.”

The Bridge to Dentistry programs were created to reach students in underserved areas, provide them early education and increase their awareness and entry into dental careers. These new dentists could then return to their communities, open dental practices, care for patients and, ultimately, help remedy the underserved areas where they grew up. The first program was initiated in 1991 by Dr. Claude Williams, community outreach director, and was expanded in 1997. Formally named the Summer Predental Enrichment Program, it was aimed at current college students who were aspiring to attend dental school.

Over time the Bridge to Dentistry programs grew, and SPEP also grew to reach students while in high school. SPEPs were added for incoming 10th, 11th and 12th graders, and students were returning year after year to SPEP as they continued their education. Officials noticed one gap, however, in the otherwise seamless endeavor.

“We’ve tried to develop a pipeline approach, where we reach students all during the academic track,” says Lacy. “We realized there was a ‘leak’ from high school to college. Students would complete SPEP 12 but then had to wait before they could enter SPEP Collegiate.”

Lacy is already looking for ways to improve the program for next year.  She’s considering matching the students to their shadowing partners so students can begin that portion earlier in the program. She’s also renovating the coursework to provide more academic rigor. One element that won’t change is the preclinical work at HSC-BCD: she said students loved the hands-on experience. Overall, the new program was a success.

“We’re excited that this program bridges the gap in SPEP,” Lacy says. “There’s continuity now. We can follow these students more, not lose them, as they journey to become future dentists.”