Global Health Nexus, Summer 2002

A Harlem State of Mind

NYU Dentistry Partners With Local Legislators to Recruit African-American Young People to Careers in Dentistry

Minority entry into the dental profession is slipping—a downward trend that is particularly disturbing with regard to African Americans. In 2000, only 337 applicants to dental schools in the United States were African- American out of a total applicant pool of 6,735. And in the U.S. as a whole, with a population of approximately 35 million African Americans, only about 6,000 are dentists.

To help broaden access to dental education for a more richly diverse pool of applicants, the NYU College of Dentistry has joined forces with key New York State legislators to identify and motivate highly qualified African-American young people and other underrepresented minorities to see dentistry as a career option. Our premise is twofold: (1) the sooner a young person starts thinking about a future career path, the better; and (2) local legislators are heroes to their young constituents and can positively influence their career choices. Subsequently, if a student applies to NYU Dentistry and is accepted on the basis of strong academic credentials, potential for achievement, and financial need—and if she or he is personally recommended by a participating legislator—the applicant will be eligible to receive a scholarship in that legislator’s name.

Among the legislators who have already endorsed this initiative are Assemblymember Herman D. Farrell, Jr., chairman of the New York State Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee; Assemblymember Keith L. T. Wright, chairman of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators; Assemblymember Roger L. Green, chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Legislative Caucus; Assemblymember Alexander B. Pete Grannis, chairman of the New York State Assembly Insurance Committee; and Assembly-member Adriano Espaillat, chairman of the New York State Task Force on New Americans and vice-chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. Many additional legislators are expected to take part as the initiative moves forward.

Several legislators have offered to sponsor outreach programs in high schools in their communities that offer strong programs in the sciences and a large African-American student population, such as the Frederick Douglass Academy and Thurgood Marshall High School, both in Harlem, and the Science Skills High School in Brooklyn.

Recently NYU Dentistry conducted a full-day program at the Frederick Douglass Academy sponsored by Assemblymember Farrell, whose district office is next door. Ms. Novella L. Jones, assistant dean for admissions and student affairs, spoke about the benefits and rewards of pursuing a dental career and encouraged students to start thinking now about colleges that offer an excellent predental curriculum. Other speakers included Ms. Connie Turner, coordinator of the Smiling Faces, Going Places mobile dental care program, and a group of students from the Student National Dental Association. Afterward, the students boarded the Smiling Faces, Going Places van for dental screenings and photos with Assemblymember Farrell. A follow-up field trip to NYU Dentistry is being scheduled.

Oral Cancer Screenings Again Part of NYU Cancer Awareness Month

For the second year in a row, volunteers from NYU Dentistry’s Faculty Practice North, based at the NYU Medical Center, provided free oral cancer screenings to the general public throughout February as part of NYU Cancer Awareness Month. Sponsored by NYU’s Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 37 National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, the event marked the eighth consecutive year that the NYU Medical Center has sponsored this program, and the second year that it has offered oral cancer screenings.

“Forty-two participants were screened this year, with seven people recommended for follow-up care,” said Barbara Donofrio, manager of the NYU Dental Faculty Practice. “This is a dramatic increase in follow-ups from last year, and a clear indication that our involvement is having an impact on people’s lives.”