|Dr. Art DiMarco with RIDE students (RIDE photo)|
The Regional Initiatives in Dental Education program has an impressive success rate: over 70 percent of its graduates have been placed in rural or underserved areas of Washington, Oregon, California and Texas. The 4-year program is modeled on--and designed to integrate with--the university's WWAMI program (so named for the states Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho), which trains medical students to serve as primary care physicians throughout the Pacific Northwest, especially in rural areas. RIDE dental students and WWAMI medical students both spend their first year at Spokane's Eastern Washington University campus. Second- and third-year RIDE students train in Seattle, and fourth-year students spend four months working with community health center dentists. The training is meant to create a "super-generalist" who can capably serve in rural areas.
Dr. Art DiMarco, the program's director at Eastern Washington University, said the program was different from other rural placement programs from the start. Other programs relied on loan forgiveness to lure students, which DiMarco said helped, but didn't attract as many students as they needed. The RIDE program's founding director, Dr. Wendy Mouradian, looked instead to the WWAMI program. She says the four keys to both programs that ensure its success rate are:
- Have faith in the students' desire to provide care to rural/underserved populations and reward this interest early.
- Ensure comprehensive training for rural practice.
- Provide mentoring and post-graduation support.
- Structure education for a "cohort effect". i.e., the students support each other so that everyone shows up every day and does their best work.