Fort Hays State University (FHSU) will offer a bachelor's degree program to train registered dental practitioners (RDPs) pending passage of an RDP proposal currently being considered by the Kansas Legislature.
The announcement was made October 11 by Edward Hammond, PhD, the university's president, at a meeting of the Home and Community Based Services Oversight Committee.
The RDP proposal, Senate Bill 192/House Bill 2280, is currently being considered by the state Public Health and Welfare and Health and Human Services committees, respectively. Both bills received hearings during the 2011 legislative session and are awaiting further action by the committees in 2012.
"Our motto is 'forward thinking, world ready,' and we think that by becoming the first four-year university in Kansas to offer a bachelor's degree program for RDPs, we're truly living up to that motto," said Hammond in a press release. "We will provide our communities with the workforce to meet a basic health need. Doing so will create jobs in rural Kansas while improving the quality of life in rural Kansas."
— Edward Hammond, PhD
RDPs will perform preventive and routine services, such as cleanings and fillings, and will work in federally designated professional workforce shortage areas where Kansans have no access to dentists or safety-net clinics that serve the uninsured and underinsured.
Several counties in Kansas are facing an acute shortage of dentists, and many low-income families do not have access to dental care, Hammond told DrBicuspid.com in an interview. The midlevel dental practitioner model will help alleviate some of these issues, he said.
FHSU is in the process of completing a curriculum for the program that will be tweaked according to the final legislation, he added.
The university plans to start a bachelor's degree program with 124 to 130 credit hours. During the first two years, the students will receive the education of a dental hygienist; that last two years will be similar to the third and fourth years of dental school. The students will also study anatomy, physiology, and oral biology above and beyond what is required of a dental hygienist, Hammond explained.
Once they graduate and are licensed, the dental practitioners will be required to work under the supervision of licensed dentists.
The university is in a good position to start the program, having had experience in training midlevel medical providers, Hammond noted.
"We will use the same model and recruit students from underserved areas who will go back and work in those areas," he said. "We have had tremendous success in the medical field, and I see no reason that we won't see it in dental."
But the dental practitioner proposal has received opposition. In testimony against the legislation earlier this year, Kansas Dental Association Executive Director Kevin Robertson told lawmakers the measure would jeopardize patient health and safety.
"The same issues were raised against the physician assistant model in this country, and research has shown that these concerns are not valid," Hammond said.
FHSU aims to secure private funding to start the RDP training program; the university does not anticipate requesting state appropriations. Subsequent to development of the program, student tuition dollars will be used to help finance the program.
"Fort Hays State's central location and progressive mission make it the ideal place for Kansas RDPs to receive their education," said Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, one of the leaders of the Kansas Dental Project.
The Kansas Dental Project is a team of citizens, advocates, and healthcare professionals who support the dental therapist model. The project is led by the Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, and the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition.