Rural scholarships aim to boost dental care in underserved areas
By Matt Westerfield
First-year dentistry student Kyle Neely already had been thinking about opening a private practice one day in his “old stomping grounds” of Star, but the prospect of student loans was a major cause for concern.
Luckily, as one of the first three School of Dentistry students to be awarded the Mississippi Rural Dentists Scholarship, that goal is now much more within reach.
In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature approved the scholarship program after three years of effort by Dr. Mark Donald, a dentist in Louisville, the Mississippi Dental Association and Dr. Gary Reeves, dean of the School of Dentistry.
The program, modeled after the 5-year-old Rural Physicians Scholarship, is aimed at supporting dentistry students who intend to return to their roots across the state to practice after graduating. The first scholarships of $35,000 per year were awarded to Neely, third-year student Suzanne Chance and fourth-year student Lynsey Giachelli last fall.
“The Rural Dentists Scholarship Program has been viewed by our Mississippi Legislature as a very beneficial provision in our state,” said Donald, a 1988 graduate of the School of Dentistry and past president of the MDA. “Our legislators understand the challenges associated with meeting health-care needs in our rural communities. They passed the bill to establish the program and provided funding to provide scholarships in the very first year.
“That demonstrates a real desire to serve the people of our state.”
Donald serves as chairman of the program’s commission, which includes representatives from the dental school, the Mississippi Academy of General Dentistry, the Mississippi Dental Society and the Mississippi Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. He said they are looking to get three more scholarships funded in 2014.
“There are a lot of underserved areas in Mississippi that don’t have access to health care and dental care,” said Dr. Wilhelmina O’Reilly, professor of pediatric dentistry and community oral health and assistant dean for admissions and student affairs. “These scholarships provided by the Mississippi Legislature will serve to remedy that problem by helping us recruit quality students from these areas or students who will go back and provide excellent dental care to these areas.”
The first recipients all hail from rural parts of the state and plan to make their careers there.
“I was going to go back to the Delta regardless of whether I got this or not, but this was just an incentive to go back anyway,” said Giachelli, who grew up in Indianola. “I’m getting rewarded to go back to my hometown, to the people and the places that I love.”