Dental students learn the drill
rill in hand, Shannon Holcomb ’07 ’11 follows the chewing grooves on the tooth she’s filling, a hard-to-reach molar far back in the patient’s mouth. She makes a tiny hole, then another, before stopping to review her notes and ask questions. Because she’s left-handed, using the instruments and mirror is taking some practice.
But that’s not a problem for her patient, a plastic model called Dexter. Although she got the drill only a few weeks earlier, Holcomb, a first-year student at the ECU School of Dental Medicine, already is preparing model teeth for restorations, learning the ins and outs of dentistry and developing the hand skills she’ll need to treat her first real patients. That may come as early as August. By then, she will have studied the body’s systems and anatomy, heard a year’s worth of practical lectures and solved hundred of case problems using the school’s online discussion network.
The good news is that between now and then, she’ll have plenty of friends to count on during class and after hours.
“We’re like family,” Holcomb, 27, says of her classmates, the first enrolled at the dental school. “We celebrate birthdays and all want to see each other succeed. That’s part of being in the first class.” Instructors, too. “They don’t view us as students, but more as colleagues,” she says. “They stand by us.”
This inaugural class of 52 is navigating its first, fast year. And what a ride it’s been. Only a few weeks into their first semester, they began lab work with models and wax teeth. They spent two days a week there learning what are called hand skills, the manual training to prepare, fill and otherwise restore teeth. The dental school is temporarily housed on the second floor of the Brody Health Sciences Building, but that should change by the start of their second year, when the new dental school building is expected to open. Once it does, they’ll see their first patients under the supervision of faculty members.
That brisk pace distinguishes ECU from traditional dental schools. Another distinction is its problem-solving seminars. Indeed, before they graduate, they will have worked through more than 5,000 case problems and completed more than 1,000 procedures. They’ll learn the body’s systems, an important component for dentists in rural areas where they will likely encounter complex dental cases in people with advanced health problems.
Their practical training is spread over four years, starting with models their first year. This fall, they will treat patients under the supervision of an attending dentist. Their third year brings more complex cases and treatments.
By year four, they will be working under a faculty member at one of several planned ECU dental offices both at the dental school and outside Greenville, where they’re expected to complete three different nine-week rotations. These practices, known as community service learning centers, are under construction or planned in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lillington, Sylva and Spruce Pine. Five more sites will be announced.
“Everything is going according to plan,” says Greg Chadwick, interim dean, who took over from James Hupp in 2011. Hupp is now serving as a professor.
The model heads used in their lab, located in a second-floor area of the former Laupus Library, allow students to insert and change the hinged teeth sets they work on. Using a thin blue rubber sheet, they cover most of the teeth, exposing only those they’re studying. Looking up, they can review notes and diagrams on their laptops as they go through the procedure.
For many of them, taking up a dental drill was a rite of passage. “We were all pretty nervous,” says Phillip Cochran, 25, who’s also class president. “Once you dive in you’ve got plenty of good instruction. It’s easier than I thought it would be,” he says, adding, “but in some ways it’s a lot more difficult.”
Getting his drill felt a lot like being knighted, says Alex Crisp, 24. “It was official,” he says. “It was really exciting.” The program has moved quickly but he expected it would. With tests every Wednesday, labs Tuesday and Friday and lectures and seminars Mondays and Thursdays, there’s not a minute to spare. Like medical students, they also have rounds with presentations by faculty members—medical doctors as well as dentists—who discuss complicated or interesting cases and research. They conduct their own rounds, as well, presenting cases to each other and to faculty members.
For Rebecca Ferguson, 27, working with instruments and models marks a welcome departure from the familiar. She previously worked as a pharmaceutical researcher, investigating new drugs to treat cancer and nerve conditions. But, she says, “it was a little too far from working with patients. And that’s what I wanted.” Her father is a dentist and her mom a hygienist, so she felt drawn to it. Since arriving at ECU, she hasn’t looked back.
“After we got into the lab—that’s when the real excitement set in,” Ferguson says. ”Instead of just book work, we were applying our dexterity. That was when it finally hit me: wow, this is great.” — Marion Blackburn
East Carolina’s new peers
Southern Illinois, Central Michigan, Southern Mississippi and East Tennessee State are new peers that East Carolina can measure itself by, according to the UNC Board of Governors. The board in November released new lists of schools that each UNC campus should consider peers. Below is the list. Schools with an asterisk are carried over from 2006. The three schools in bold are “aspirational peers” that ECU can specifically learn from.
- Florida International*
- Northern Illinois*
- Southern Illinois
- University of Louisville*
- Western Michigan*
- Central Michigan
- University of Missouri-Kansas City*
- University of Southern Mississippi
- University of North Dakota*
- University of Nevada-Reno*
- University of Buffalo*
- Ohio University*
- Wright State University*
- University of South Carolina*
- East Tennessee State
- Texas Tech*
- Old Dominion*
- Virginia Commonwealth*
N.C. a grad school magnet
North Carolina is a donor state in a regional consortium in which universities agree to charge in-state tuition to an out-of-state graduate student if that same degree isn’t available in the student’s home state. Called the Academic Common Market, the compact encompasses the 16 states that are members of the Southern Regional Education Board, and is intended to prevent duplicate programs. According to a November report by the UNC Board of Governors, through nine years of the program, 388 out-of-state students enrolled in grad school at one of 11 participating UNC system campuses, while 293 North Carolina students enjoyed a similar tuition break when they enrolled in grad school in one of the other Common Market universities. The report says the reciprocal tuition arrangement saved N.C. students about $6.5 million, while out-of-state students enrolled in UNC schools saved about $8.9 million in tuition.
Two programs in nation’s top 20
Two online graduate programs at East Carolina are among the top 20 such programs in the U.S., according to a new ranking by U.S. News & World Report. The College of Nursing ranked 18th out of 79 master’s or doctorate of nursing practice programs. The online MBA program in the College of Business ranked 17th out of 161 graduate business programs.
U.S. News ranked 523 online master’s degree programs in business, engineering, nursing, education and computer information in four categories: admissions selectivity, student engagement and accreditation, faculty credentials and training, and student services and technology. Programs had to have at least 80 percent of their course content available online to be considered.
The College of Nursing has been consistently named since 2004 by U.S. News as one of the largest distance education programs in the country. But the new ranking assesses qualitative categories over size. Nursing offers seven online options in the master’s of science in nursing program: adult nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing leadership and nurse midwifery.
The online program in the College of Business developed from a single course offering in 1998 to undergraduate and graduate degrees in numerous concentrations today.
Degree programs scrutinized
Chancellor Steve Ballard in January received a faculty committee’s report analyzing academic programs that could be eliminated to partially offset a steep decline in state funding. The report by the Program Prioritization Committee evaluates which degree programs the university should eliminate or maintain at current levels and those that merit increased funding.
Of the 277 programs assessed, the committee found that 48 (about 17 percent) could be targets for reduced spending or elimination. The study said colleges and schools identified 67 programs as worthy of future investment. According to the colleges, the majority of programs (167, roughly 60 percent) should be maintained at essentially current levels of investment.
East Carolina lost $49 million in state funding last year on top of $106 million the previous three years.
Appointed by Ballard in April, the 13-member Program Prioritization Committee conducted forums for each college in October, and the initial compilation of data was released in November for feedback leading to the updated version presented to the chancellor.
Some undergraduate programs up for elimination include public history, fabric design, weaving, and organ performance. Graduate programs on the line include construction management—the bachelor level would be maintained—and athletics training.
Some programs in which bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees are offered, such as communications, computer science, chemistry, economics and geography, would be narrowed to just the bachelor of science degree.
All programs in the College of Nursing would be maintained or invested. In the College of Education, some master’s programs would be removed, including history education, business education and science education. Some bachelor’s programs will be expanded, such as elementary education, middle grades education and special education.
Other undergraduate programs considered for further investment include finance with risk management and insurance, studio art with an added emphasis on digital animation, communication, music education, dance performance and engineering.
Graduate programs that could get more resources include: health information management (the bachelor level would be eliminated), music education, nutrition science, accounting (bachelor’s in accounting would be maintained), communication and health, biomedical, molecular biology and biotechnology.
No decision on the fate of those programs is expected before late April. Officials said they do not expect any immediate, large savings from elimination of degree programs. The intent, the officials said, is to right size the university over the coming five to 10-year period.