Mironda Frankenberger is living her dream of becoming a dentist.
And the UCSF student, who is in her third year, shows other aspiring dentists — especially underrepresented minorities — how to chase theirs.
A 2013 graduate of UC Davis, Frankenberger didn’t think she was ready for dental school. Instead, she got a job at a Long Beach dental clinic. For two years, she worked in the front office, took on variety of tasks and even got a license to take x-rays. But this was not the job she was destined to have.
“I decided on my own to do a post-bac program to help me become a competitive applicant for dental school,” said Frankenberger. In 2016 she applied to, and was accepted into, the School of Dentistry’s Interprofessional Health Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, a rigorous one-year curriculum that prepares students who wish to apply to dental schools.
The program includes academic advising, upper division science coursework, mentorship from UCSF faculty and students, test preparation, and guidance with the dental school application process. It includes students from a wide variety of backgrounds and is especially geared to those who have experienced hardships that significantly compromised educational opportunities; or are a member of a population that is medically underserved. Those who complete the program with a GPA of 3.5 or higher get an automatic admissions interview at the UCSF School of Dentistry.
Growing the Numbers
The post-bac program is one avenue through which the School of Dentistry is addressing the lack of underrepresented minorities in dentistry; holistic review in admissions is another. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, the national average is less than 10 percent. Conversely, underrepresented minorities make up more than 30 percent of the general population now and are projected to make up nearly half by 2060.
A concentrated effort in the school to address the shortage of underrepresented minorities has begun to bear fruit. From a dismal 2.5 percent in 2006, enrollment climbed to 19.3 percent in 2016. Twenty-eight percent of the fall 2019 entering cohort are underrepresented minorities: four African American, six Filipino and 15 Hispanic dental students.
“We have a desire, and obligation, to make our student body reflect the diverse population that we serve,” said Brennan Crilly, outreach and recruitment coordinator for post-baccalaureate and DDS admissions.
Numerous studies show that the chronic shortage of minority dentists has contributed to severe oral health disparities in minority communities. Those studies also show that minority health providers are more likely to serve in those communities, and minority patients are more likely to see a dentist on a regular basis who shares their culture and language.
Crilly regularly goes on the road to visit colleges across the country to recruit future dentists. In the past two years, his office has added some 25 campuses with high numbers of underrepresented minorities, doubling the “visit list” to more than 50. Those are in addition to the 10 annual off-campus college and recruitments fairs the school typically attends.
Crilly noted that the school recently added some 15 new initiatives to its outreach efforts, including: increased collaboration with the campus’s Office of Diversity Outreach to connect with schools and communities with high numbers of minorities; working closer with UCSF’s student clubs to improve and increase outreach events; obtaining a new tool to collect leads and to stay in touch with prospective students; adding community colleges to its outreach calendar; and various other ways to increase avenues for promising students to apply.
Students Play Key Role
The UCSF chapter of the Student National Dental Association (SNDA), of which Frankenberger is an active member, promotes diversity at UCSF. The group also encourages undergraduate and high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to consider dentistry as a profession. SNDA, along with campus chapters of the Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), organizes the annual Impressions Conference, which offers scores of college students — most from underrepresented minority groups — a glimpse of the School of Dentistry. Last February’s conference saw nearly 200 undergrads touring UCSF, spending time in the anatomy and simulation labs, taking part in mock interviews, and hearing from current dental students, faculty, alumni and community practitioners about the importance of diversity in the dentistry profession.
Students at UCSF, said Crilly, are actively involved in leadership and community activities. He points to the 35 dentistry-specific UCSF student organizations, many of which engage in community service and outreach.
Bringing potential dental students onto the UCSF campus is a key part of institutional outreach as well. During the 2018-19 academic year, the school hosted 15 on-campus events in addition to the monthly campus tours, with an increased emphasis on showcasing the dental profession and UCSF to underrepresented minority students.
Future goals include increased support for campus efforts, greater collaboration with other schools and college advisers, and refining website content on topics such as curriculum and student debt.
And while his office and job title have the word “outreach,” Crilly said, “outreach is a team effort.”
“It’s administrators, students, faculty, alumni, college advisers and the community of dentists who want to make our profession more diverse and greater than it is now,” he said.
That team effort includes Andrea Akabike, a fourth-year dental student at UCSF. She agrees that the more people involved in outreach, the better. Like fellow student Frankenberger, Akabike has helped coordinate the Impressions Conference. Akabike is a leader with UCSF’s chapter of SNDA and, as a D4 student, she is a valuable resource for current and prospective students. She also recognizes that others have been a resource for her.
“Many people at UCSF and elsewhere helped me to get to where I am,” said Akabike.
One of those people was Dr. Pamela Alston, a volunteer associate clinical professor at UCSF, school alumna and mentor for the UCSF School of Dentistry’s post-bac program. Dr. Alston, who directs a pediatric dental clinic for the Alameda County health system, encouraged Akabike to apply to the post-bac program.
Dr. Alston’s mentorship of Akabike and other students illustrates that retention is just as important as recruitment. “[Alston] was the person who helped bring my dream of becoming a dentist into fruition,” Akabike said.