LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Dental Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of 100 students on Monday, ushering in the first group to use the school's new $52 million building.
The school becomes just the third dental college in Florida, joining Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Forty-eight percent of the inaugural class is from Florida and the majority of the class, 57 percent, is female. Sarasota native Stephanie Cole earned her undergraduate degree at Florida Gulf Coast University and during an internship, was able to help provide dental care in an unprivileged community.
"I've wanted to be a dentist for a long time, since my mom gave me a Play-Doh set," Cole said. "It's a dream come true."
In their fourth year in school, the students will work in community-based primary care clinics in Florida and in Erie, Pa.
"You are part of a health-care team we are building at LECOM that believes in prevention," Silvia Ferretti, doctor of osteopathic medicine, provost and senior vice president of LECOM, told the students.
The new 100,000-square-foot dental building at 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. features two large lecture auditoriums that can seat 205 and 305 students, respectively, 22 problem-based learning rooms, a research and library area, glass walls in lab areas and a 115-chair dental clinic. The building was privately funded. The yearly tuition bill is $48,000.
The on-site clinic will serve
as a basic care clinic for patients who need dentures starting January 2013. By March 2014, the school will offer comprehensive dental care to the community. "Within the dental profession, the issue we have is distribution," said Robert Hirsch, dean of the LECOM School of Dental Medicine who has taught at dental schools around the country, including Nova Southeastern. "It's where they're located and what is the focus of their office. These graduates will be trained to have the basic knowledge to go into under-served areas to be a dentist in the community.
"In dental school, part of the training is working with live patients," Hirsch said. "Typically, our demographic is Medicaid, fixed-income and low-income patients. We'll be able to provide care when the students start to see patients."
Florida ranks in the bottom one-third in dental care provided to patients on Medicaid and to low-income families.
"The state of Florida was ready," said John Ferretti, president and CEO of LECOM.
The dental students officially report to LECOM for classes on July 23; medical students report on July 30; pharmacy students report Aug. 20.
The dental school will have a grand opening ceremony in March 2013.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams