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Rural scholars program helps Mississippi’s future dentists return to their roots

Published on Monday, January 12, 2015

By: Jake Donald, associate director of the MRDS.

Published on January 12, 2015

Since its inception in 2013, the Mississippi Rural Dentists Scholarship Program (MRDSP) has been extremely active, both on campus with UMMC’s School of Dentistry and around the state, visiting every two- and four-year institution, recruiting students at the undergraduate level.

The MRDSP, which is funded directly by the state, is a unique longitudinal program that identifies rural college students who aspire to return to their roots to practice general or pediatric dentistry.

Academic enrichment, faculty and dentist mentoring plus solid dental school financial support through the MRDSP enable capable young Mississippians to provide adequate dental care in rural areas of Mississippi.

MRDSP’s three phases include: Initial (before matriculation to dental school), dental school training and actual practice. Maintaining a high level of awareness and involvement in Mississippi’s rural health care is a constant in every phase of training. Channeling scholars into general dentistry or pediatric dentistry will improve access to dental services in rural areas. 

To jump start the flow of general or pediatric dentists into the pipeline in 2013, three School of Dentistry students were awarded state-funded scholarships valued at $35,000 each for 2013-14. Each scholar embraced his or her small-town values and culture, sharing a common passion for making a difference in rural communities.

This year, MRDSP accepted its first undergraduate class of five students and currently has six dental students receiving scholarships for the 2014-15 year. After graduation, its students will practice in towns of less than 10,000 population where a need exists. 

In October, MRDSP had its first scholarship ceremony at UMMC, recognizing the six dental students receiving scholarships. They were joined by their friends and families as well as others who have played instrumental roles in getting them to this point in their lives.

A big supporter of the program, Mississippi State Rep. Sam Mims delivered the keynote address and issued checks to the students. Program administrators look forward to many more scholarship ceremonies to recognize dentists that will make such a positive influence on the state’s oral health care. 

Even though the program is a little more than a year old, it celebrated the first scholar to begin practicing in the state – Dr. Lynsey Giachelli Phillips of Indianola. Phillips was welcomed with open arms as she began her career as a general dentist at Sunflower Dental Clinic in Ruleville.

When asked about her experience being back home, Phillips said, “Practicing in Ruleville has been a great experience. The clinic I work with is owned by North Sunflower Medical Center and this has opened up so many avenues of treatment for the people of this community.

“I work closely with an oral surgeon who comes once a week as well as a pediatric dentist. We are able to work together and meet all of our patients’ needs without them having to seek treatment anywhere else.”  

Phillips plans to be in Ruleville long-term, serving the people that made such a big influence on her life.

She said she decided to apply for the MRDSP scholarship “because I am from Indianola and had always dreamed of returning to my hometown area to practice. I couldn’t think of anything more amazing than receiving a scholarship that was encouraging me to go back to a place like the Delta.”

Not only does the scholarship serve as a benefit of being involved in the MRDSP, but through mentoring and networking, the students can gain so much more. 

“I believe the biggest benefit of being an MRDSP scholar is going to be the awareness that it brings to other potential scholars,” Phillips said. “Being the first MRDSP scholar who has graduated and entered the workforce, I think it is encouraging and reassuring to other students that they, too, can complete dental school and practice in a rural community if they want to and still be successful.”

Program administrators say they are very proud of Phillips and are excited that she is living out the mission of  “growing our own” in Mississippi.

The program has had a successful recruiting season, and through social media outlets and local civic club presentations, administrators are working diligently to reach out to as many people as possible. They’ve partnered with the Mississippi Dental Association to reach dentists across the state that could provide resources for the undergraduates and dental students.

MRDSP administrators appreciate all supporters of the program and look forward to working with more of you as they continue to strengthen an already outstanding program. Please look for ways to recruit for the program and send interested students their way to learn more about the program.