UW News

October 30, 2008

Somerman affirms School of Dentistry’s mission of social responsibility

By Steve Steinberg
School of Dentistry

Saying, “This is no time to accept the status quo,” Dean Martha Somerman affirmed the UW School of Dentistry’s mission of social responsibility and patient care, progressive oral health training and research leadership in her annual State of the School speech on Oct. 28.

In a 50-minute talk to dental school faculty, staff and students, the dean reviewed the school’s strategic plan and vision as it confronts a worsening national economy, reduced state funding and spreading budget cuts.

“It’s a tough time,” Somerman said. But she said it was still crucial for the school to address the issue of unequal access to medical care.

Somerman talked of a failing national health care system and noted that in fiscal year 2008, the School of Dentistry has already delivered $2.4 million in uncompensated patient care. The dean said addressing the growing disparities in oral health and in access to care among underserved U.S. populations will pose a major challenge.

The dean briefly discussed several major initiatives by the school, including the Early Childhood Oral Health (ECOH) program. The $18 million program, which is being funded without state aid, is aimed at infants and toddlers. With the help of a $5 million grant from Washington Dental Service (WDS) and the WDS Foundation, ECOH plans to open a 28,000-square-foot treatment facility at Warren G. Magnuson Park in September 2010.

Somerman also cited the Regional Initiative in Dental Education (RIDE), a new program that rotates dental students into training alongside students in other health professions. The program got underway in August with the enrollment of eight new dental students at the Riverpoint campus of Washington State University Spokane.

Along with RIDE, the dean outlined four other major areas of emphasis for the coming year:

  • Comprehensive care, with a task force on implementation to be chaired by Dr. Daniel Chan, the school’s newly appointed associate dean for clinical services
  • Building a financial reserve
  • Developing infrastructure and facilities
  • Accreditation, with a site visit planned for 2009

The dean said no accreditation difficulties were anticipated. Instead, she challenged faculty and staff to view the process as a chance to evaluate and improve the school’s programs.

Somerman discussed the makeup of the school’s student body, noting continuing efforts to enroll more students from underrepresented minorities.

“We have to create an environment at the school that’s welcoming to a diverse way of thinking,” she said. “I think there are still a lot of growing pains, and I think we can do a better job.”

After a brief review of current research at the school, Somerman said that she expects 2008 year-end funding totals to increase from 2007. But challenges exist here too, she said, citing a 10 percent cut in noncompetitive funding renewal.

Critical funding needs will include faculty recruiting support, infrastructure, and unrestricted operational support, she said.

Somerman highlighted the recently concluded Campaign UW drive, which raised more than $22 million for the School of Dentistry. The gifts, which brought in more than $500,000 in matching UW funds, helped create the following:

  • A new chair
  • Three new professorships
  • A new endowment for faculty development in Restorative Dentistry
  • A permanent fund for clinical research
  • The Bruce R. Rothwell Distinguished Teacher Awards