The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reaffirmed the 3+4 Dual Degree and Dental Early Admission Program (DEAP) with the signing of a new agreement between the two universities Nov. 1 at the UTPA Visitors Center.
The DEAP, a partnership established in 1990, offers a pipeline for outstanding students with an interest in dentistry to receive early acceptance into dental school and ultimately receive both a Bachelor of Science degree from UTPA and a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from UTHSC at San Antonio in a seven year period.
"Through this program our students have access to health care education and the community ultimately has access to health care. It's a win-win situation for the Valley," Cárdenas said, noting that the Rio Grande Valley is an underserved area in almost every medical field. "We have a shortage of health professionals across the board, especially dentists."
In the rest of Texas there is one dentist for every 2,800 individuals, but in the Rio Grande Valley there is one dentist for every 7,500, Cárdenas said. According to the Texas State Health Department that need is going to get greater over the next decade, she said.
Cigarroa said the program is financially beneficial for students and allows them to receive personalized attention while receiving both their bachelor's and doctoral degrees.
"The program is important because it establishes growth and continuity between UTPA and one of the top dental schools in the nation," he said. "From a scholarship perspective, students are able to get two degrees in seven years - that is one year of tuition that has been saved. It also allows that individual to come back, hopefully to their home roots and take care of patients and begin their earning potential one year sooner."
The DEAP agreement defines new requirements for receiving the guaranteed acceptance such as new grade point averages and dental school admissions test scores, establishes new curriculum for the students at UTPA and delineates the coursework at UTHSC at San Antonio that will be transferred to UT Pan American to complete the bachelor's degree.
Dr. Scott Gunn, coordinator of the DEAP at UTPA said the program requires dedication and maturity of students at an early stage in their academic careers, which he says is not always easy.
"It's really refreshing to work with this program where students come in and they already have this commitment and passion to one area and most of the time they are able to sustain that," Gunn said.
DEAP participant Francesca "Tracey" Falqueza, who is in her final year of the program at UTPA, said she enjoyed the program's summer orientation and relishes the relationships she has formed over the last few years.
"For two days in the summer between my second and third year, we got to visit the dental school, meet professors, talk with students, become familiarized with the academic curriculum and were given a general idea of what campus life is about. The summer orientation re-instilled in me the desire to pursue this truly great profession," Falqueza said. "The program has also meant a lot to me on a personal level. Some of the best friendships I've made in college have been with students who are in the program with me. The camaraderie of my fellow students has been a great support system. The bonds formed by these experiences are truly priceless."
The new agreement is open-ended and either institution can terminate it with sufficient notice. As the first guaranteed entry program at UTPA, the DEAP has a strong history of success with 33 participants to date. The program boasts seven practicing dentists, eight current dental students, and 11 program students currently at UTPA.
Interested students should apply to the program when they have no less than 12 and no more than 30 semester hours of academic work. Applications from exceptional high school seniors may also be considered with sufficient supporting material.
"The ideal student is highly motivated to succeed and needs to be fully committed to the field of dentistry. The student needs to have maturity and academic skills to achieve the highest levels in a challenging program," Gunn said. "Good people skills and communication skills are also required during the daily interaction with patients. Strong leadership skills are also a necessity because the dentist leads a team of professionals in the field of dental care."
For more information about the DEAP, contact Gunn at 956/381-3540.