Diversity Pipeline for New Dentists

A symposium brings underrepresented undergrads to the clinic to learn about life as a dental student
Roshaunda Moreno Kitchen, D20, gives Derrick Durham from Morehouse College a hand in the Simulation Clinic.
Roshaunda Moreno Kitchen, D20, gives Derrick Durham from Morehouse College a hand in the Simulation Clinic. Photo: Alonso Nichols
June 26, 2017

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Bending over a rubber mannequin head in the Sim Clinic, Roshaunda Moreno Kitchen, D20, lifted an instrument from a metal tray and inserted it into the wide-open pink mouth.

“You can use this instrument and press down like this,” she told Morehouse College sophomore Derrick Durham, who was getting a lesson in creating composite for dental fillings. “Or you can use this one and press down like that.” Kitchen demonstrated with another instrument on a mannequin’s head.

Durham, one of 34 college students, graduate school students and interns participating in the fourth annual Increasing Diversity in Dentistry (IDID) symposium at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) May 23-24, was learning how to place composite fillings on a posterior tooth for the first time.

“Patience,” laughed Durham when asked what he picked up during the nearly two-hour session. “I was getting frustrated. But you’ve got to start somewhere.”

As a kid, Durham was passionate about teeth, even watching tooth extractions on YouTube, he said. But looking at admissions statistics for the dental schools of his choice, he wasn’t optimistic about his chances of getting in.

Then he signed up for the IDID Pipeline Initiative, a program founded four years ago by Jeanette Sabir-Holloway, director of outreach, recruitment and admissions at the dental school, in partnership with IDID Institute Corp. and initially with a grant from the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute. The symposium is run through the Tufts chapter of the Student National Dental Association (SNDA).

“IDID is a pipeline to help underrepresented minority students become better prepared applicants for dental school,” Sabir-Holloway said. “It creates a mentoring and nurturing relationship with dental students and provides exposure, experience and enrichment.”

For Durham and other IDID participants, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, an early start can make all the difference, according to Sabir-Holloway. Some 23 students who completed the program have gone on to attend TUSDM and are set to graduate between 2018 and 2021.

“TUSDM is committed to educating and training more dentists who embody the fabric of our nation, not only to address disparities in healthcare, but to improve the overall health of all people,” Sabir-Holloway said. “We believe that our D20 class is the most diverse class of any dental school in the country.”

During the two-day symposium, in addition to his work on composite in the Sim Clinic, Durham toured the dental school, shadowed students, tried his hand at waxing teeth, and took impressions.

Most useful of all, Durham said, was the opportunity to interact with dental students, who hosted participants overnight, helped them craft resumes and personal statements, and talked about life as a dentist in training. “The best part was being able to pick their brains and ask questions. They were real—they didn’t sugarcoat,” Durham said. “They said it’s hard work, it’s not going to be easy, but you can do it.”

Kiara Vann, a Georgia State University senior, had a similar story. As a child, she would crane her neck during visits to the dentist, asking, “What are you doing back there?” Her family didn’t have the money to invest in things like straightening teeth. “Lacking that made me want to help others,” she said.

But there were no dentists in her family to show her the way. “I didn’t have someone to advise and mentor me and bring me into the field,” Vann said. “I found myself a little lost.”

That changed as Vann went through the IDID symposium. She learned how to prepare for the Dental Admission Test, what classes to take, what skills to cultivate during an internship, and what dental work is like. “I like doing impressions. You can mirror what you’re seeing,” said Vann, who also considered being an interior designer. “That’s where the creativity comes out.”

Between now and her graduation in December, Vann plans to do as much volunteering and shadowing in the dental field as she can, to polish her personal statement and narrow her list of prospective schools. She will begin her applications in June 2018.

For his part, Durham hopes to do community service and get more exposure to dentistry. “It’s good to start early,” he said.

Monica Jimenez can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu