Written by: Janae Momchilovich
Janae is a current D2 at Marquette and serves in multiple legislative positions. She is currently the Marquette ASDA Legislative Liaison, SCDA Legislative Chair, and ASDA Districts 6 & 7 Legislative Coordinator
It’s no secret that our student debt load will influence our decisions on where to practice after dental school. Is “rural dentistry” something you’ve contemplated, but the thought of student loans has driven you crazy? If so, then listen up because Wisconsin just made a major move to make practicing in rural areas a much more enticing option for newly graduated dentists.
At Legislative Day in Madison this year, midlevel providers and access to care issues were hot topics. However, Marquette University School of Dentistry, with the help of WDA dentists, introduced the idea of an alternative “rural track program” that they think will be a better solution than midlevel providers. Believe it or not, our hard work has paid off: The Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance has removed midlevel providers out of Governor Tony Evers’ proposal and funds have been allotted to begin providing Rural Dentistry Scholarships at Marquette University School of Dentistry. The Wisconsin state budget bill still needs to make its way through the legislative process, so it is not certain yet that the Rural Dentistry Scholarships will become law.
What is it?
This program will provide new dentists the opportunity to establish careers in rural Wisconsin without the fear of also carrying an astronomical debt burden. For years, this has been a recognized barrier, preventing recently graduated dentists from taking over small-town practices.
The Higher Education Aids Board (HEAB), in conjunction with Marquette University, will ensure this scholarship will be available for five incoming Wisconsin resident D1s each year. The scholarship would provide each recipient student with a $40,000 stipend per year of enrollment at MUSOD. This successfully decreases the debt burden by over 50% of tuition costs. The idea is that with decreased debt, new graduates will feel more comfortable entering into a rural practice. Additionally, this is where much of the shortage to dental care is located.
What would I have to do to participate?
In order to qualify for this program, the participating students would have to commit to practice for 18 months for each year of scholarship received in a rural “dental health professional shortage area” through criteria defined by HEAB. These regions have specifically excluded Milwaukee, Waukesha, Dane, Kenosha and Brown counties. The hope is that this program will also help aging dentists find a succeeding dentist to provide care in their community for years to come.
Who supports this?
Dean William Lobb has been in support of a program like this for quite a while. Additionally, the Wisconsin Dental Association’s support for this was apparent during Legislative Day in Madison this past March. The budget motion to create Rural Dentistry Scholarships is similar to the bipartisan legislation introduced by state Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and state Representative Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) this month. Ultimately, as health care professionals, we want to promote dental health across all populations. This is a big step for Wisconsin in recognizing the access to care and student loan crisis. We are all excited to see the kind of impact Rural Dentistry Scholarships can make for improving access to care for our patients.
This is a prime example of how getting involved and advocating can make a difference. With the help of WDA dentists and Marquette University, Marquette ASDA students have played a pivotal role in this discussion. By participating in the WDA Legislative Day, writing letters to our legislators, and making an effort to talk to these legislators in person about the struggles we’re facing, our voice has made a huge difference. Maintaining an active role in our future profession can truly create change to better serve our patients and keep dentistry the strong, rewarding profession it has traditionally been.