The pathway to dentistry for minority students: from their perspective.J Dent Educ. 2004 Sep; 68(9):938-46.JD
The small number of minorities in the field of dentistry is a serious concern. While the United States as a whole has become more diverse with minorities making up 25 percent of the total U.S. population, only a handful (14 percent) are currently practicing dentistry, and only 11 percent entering dental schools are underrepresented minorities. Pipeline, Profession, & Practice: Community-Based Dental Education is a national foundation-sponsored program designed to address this issue in dental education. To understand the reasons why dentistry attracts so few underrepresented minority (URM) students, we conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews to determine the challenges facing minority students when they apply to and attend dental school. Ten focus groups were conducted with a total of ninety-two minority students (fourteen undergraduate students and seventy-eight students currently enrolled in dental schools) at six universities in four geographic regions. In addition, four in-depth interviews were held with faculty advisors who teach, mentor, and recruit minority students. The major findings of the study are as follows: 1) early and frequent exposure to dentistry and dentists in practice is essential for minority students to consider this profession; 2) while many dental schools have earnestly tried to recruit minority applicants, most URM students find out about dental programs by a family member or friend and not as a result of an intentional recruiting effort; and 3) hearing directly from minority students could be a solid first step in understanding the dental school experience from a different vantage point. This study has important implications for the methods dental schools use to both recruit minority students and foster a learning environment that is sensitive to students from diverse backgrounds.