Between high school and college, Riaz Dini, D13, spent a year working to eradicate the parasitic disease river blindness in the central African nation of Cameroon. The project was part of a year of service sponsored by his Baha’i faith community, which encourages young people to participate in development work, either overseas or in the United States.
“That experience started my interest in public health services and policy,” says Dini, who hopes to return to Africa to work in public health. To that end, he will be among the first students to take advantage of the dental school’s new combined D.M.D./M.P.H. degree program, which was launched earlier this year.
The impetus behind the dual-degree program is to address the shortage of dentists who are board-certified in public health, says Wanda Wright, an assistant professor of public health and community service who directs the program.
“With the changing demographics of the [U.S.] population—the population is getting older and there are higher percentages of minorities—there are a lot of oral health disparities that need to be addressed on a population-based level,” Wright says, and that’s precisely what public health dentistry seeks to do.
“I was considering that I’d get an M.P.H. at some point in my career, and when I found out that Tufts was going to introduce this dual-degree program, I thought it was a great opportunity,” says Dini. “Hopefully, it will open doors for me that otherwise might not have been there.”
The program allows students to earn a dental degree and a master’s in public health from Tufts School of Medicine in five years, at least a year less than if both degrees were pursued sequentially. The bonus is that students save time and tuition dollars.
Students can enter the program after their second year of dental school, and approximately two students per year will be admitted, says Wright.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has committed startup funds for partial tuition support, paying approximately 50 percent of tuition toward the M.P.H. degree for the first 10 students to enroll.
Helene Ragovin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.