Despite the expense of a higher education and the large loans that often follow, studying dentistry is becoming an attractive option for many students seeking fulfilling and lucrative careers, and more women than ever before are choosing the dental profession.
Following the inauguration of its first class of dental students almost three years ago, The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) School of Dental Medicine welcomed the third class of 100 students to its Lakewood Ranch campus during a Friday orientation. Almost half of the Class of 2018 are female (42 percent), and 35 percent are Florida residents.
Among the new students reporting to their first day of class Monday will be 23-year-old Sherry Walters, a 2009 graduate of Lakewood Ranch High
School, who just graduated from USF-St. Petersburg and chose LECOM as the only place she wanted to study dentistry.
"I had a good education at Lakewood Ranch High School, and I felt my passion and calling back then. I chose dentistry because the first time you meet a person, you look at their face, and good teeth gives confidence to a lot of people," said Walters, who like St. Petersburg resident Robert Musselman is happy to be studying close to home.
"I've had two months off, and I've tried to have as much fun as I could, so I'm ready and prepared," Musselman said. LECOM's dental school, based in Erie, Pa., opened its Lakewood Ranch campus in July 2012 with a $52 million state-of-the-art building at 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., next door to the osteopathic medicine and pharmacy schools. The new 100,000-square foot dental building features two large lecture halls that seat several hundred students, 22 classrooms, patient-based simulation clinics, a library and research center and a 115-chair dental clinic that opened to the Bradenton-area community in March, staffed by second- and third-year dental students.
Over 3,000 applicants applied to LECOM this year for a doctor of dental medicine degree, and there are more faculty positions available than there are faculty to fill them. Despite the annual tuition, which is $48,480, the profession is growing by leaps and bounds, according to the school's executive associate dean, Dr. Anton Gotlieb.
"The current trend towards cosmetic and aesthetic dentistry, coupled with the federal government's push to serve the medical and dental needs of our underserved population is adding to the need for more dentists," said Gotlieb, who is confident that LECOM grads will be well equipped to handle general dentistry for any population in any area of the country.
Early in LECOM's dental curriculum, students gain clinical experience working with patients from the Bradenton community. Second- and third-year students work in the on-campus dental clinic, providing primary care dentistry and denture services at reduced costs to patients. Senior year students work entirely in outreach group practices, gaining hands-on clinical training at the school's dental offices near Tallahassee and in Pennsylvania near the main campus.
The out-patient clinic at the Lakewood Ranch campus offers affordable comprehensive dental care, including cleanings, gum treatments, dentures, crowns, extractions and general dental treatments. Third-year student Jasmine Shafagh has enjoyed working in the clinic since it opened in March.
"Patients are excited to see us. Many of them have had a lack of access to care. When they see our enthusiasm and the time we spend with them, they appreciate it," she said.
The clinic typically serves middle and low-income residents of all ages, but anyone is welcome. Those interested in becoming a patient can call LECOM's dental group practice office at 941-405-1600 to arrange an appointment for an initial examination.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.