UW scores big with efforts to train dentists for rural areas

Bringing health care to rural and underserved populations in Washington and the region at large has long been a priority for the University of Washington. It started with the School of Medicine’s WWAMI program, which educates medical students to serve residents of rural communities in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. And here’s another dynamite example of the UW’s impact outside of Seattle: the School of Dentistry’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education program.

Known as RIDE, the program just marked its 15th anniversary. Operating in conjunction with Eastern Washington University as well as the WWAMI program, it trains up-and-coming dentists to meet the needs of people who live outside of large population centers. This initiative is so urgently needed that it has received invaluable support from dental associations, community health centers, Area Health Education Centers and other stakeholders.

The results are simply amazing. Since the program was funded by the Legislature in 2007 and produced its first graduates in 2012, more than 75% of its students have gone on to work at community clinics throughout Eastern Washington and other states’ rural and underserved areas. Many community health centers in Eastern Washington are completely run by RIDE students, too. That is the definition of impact.

Dr. Arley Medrano, ’18, ’22, is a prime example of what the UW has been seeking to accomplish. “I grew up in Okanogan, I grew up in the surrounding area, I know how important it is to have access to care,” he says. “It was very important for me to return to help a community that raised me and built me into the person I am today.”

Dr. Frank Roberts, the School of Dentistry’s associate dean for regional affairs and director of the RIDE program, perhaps summed it up best. “When you practice dentistry in an urban area, you make a big impact on your individual patients,” he explains. “But when you practice in a rural, underserved setting, you impact the whole community. That’s really special.”

And that is what the University of Washington is all about: serving the needs of citizens from the entire state and region, all of whom deserve the same kind of attention and care as those who live in the big cities. After all, the UW is the University for Washington.