Thursday, June 30, 2022

Since 2017, the University of Iowa has offered a highly competitive, enriching six-week experience with the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP). The SHPEP program is one of 12 national programs funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to showcase careers in healthcare professions for students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

The UI program is a partnership with the Colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Public Health.  Michelle McQuistan, associate professor and officer for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College of Dentistry, leads the dental track of the program. Each year, she and Sherry Timmons, professor and associate dean of students, and Rachael Kowbel, director of admissions, select approximately 20 undergraduate students to participate in the dental track of the program.

SHPEP Class of 2022
2022 dental track SHPEP students

These students are selected from among a highly qualified pool of students from backgrounds underrepresented in dentistry. McQuistan then administers the day-to-day operations of the dental track working closely with current dental students to assist who help lead the activities.

Over the course of the six-week program, students on the dental track visit the College of Dentistry every Wednesday afternoon for four hours. During this time, they learned about dental careers, shadowed third-year dental students as the dental students provided patient care, heard presentations about each of the dental specialties, and participated in hands-on activities such as drawing and waxing teeth, placing composite restorations, and making and pouring impressions.

Sherry Timmons has seen the value SHPEP provides.

“SHPEP is a unique, immersive education experience that assists students in their understanding of dentistry and health science education. It provides them with tools to navigate higher education and provides them with mentoring and resources to improve their success.”

Whether it’s working on improving study techniques, learning about health disparities research, developing networking skills, hands-on training with dental materials, or a basic science course, participants grow from the experience.

Jonelle Joseph saw that firsthand. She will be a third-year dental student at Iowa this fall, and she participated in the SHPEP program in the summer of 2017, the first year it was offered.

“The SHPEP program prepared me the most for the process of applying to dental school. I feel like I was a bit confused about everything it entailed and the program cleared up the components of the application and the general timeline for me.”

Similarly, Hannah Malloy really appreciated the program. Malloy will be a second-year dental student at Iowa this fall. She participated in SHPEP during the summer of 2019.

“Having the opportunity to shadow in the clinics prepared me for dental school, and the experience exposed me to different dental specialties.” 

Malloy said that SHPEP also was a great networking opportunity. It connected her with a dentist practicing in a federally qualified health center in Ottumwa, IA, who she later shadowed.

Joseph said that the hands-on activities were particularly helpful in preparing her for dental school.

Some of the hands-on activities for the summer 2017 dental track of the SHPEP program at Iowa.

“I remember waxing being a helpful skill that helped me understand tooth anatomy and I ended up doing quite a bit of waxing when I started dental school! So, I felt pretty comfortable with it while I was doing it in class since I had the previous experience through SHPEP.”

Joseph and Malloy both loved their experience and wanted to give back to the program that helped them. Joseph assisted last summer with the SHPEP class of 2021 and Malloy assisted this summer with the SHPEP class of 2022, along with dental students Sarmad Saadi, Riley Erck, Asia Williams, and Carter Coppinger.

“I felt so privileged to be a resource for pre-dental students and to ease their minds about the whole process. I remember being in their shoes thinking I needed perfect scores and grades, but that's really not what getting into dental school is about. Yes, you need to be a well-rounded student, but it's also very important to have an excitement and passion surrounding dentistry and to hold on to that during the whole process because that's what keeps you going,” Joseph explained.

With another group of 20 students on the dental track in 2022, there may be another group of students like Joseph and Malloy who not only better reflect the population of those we serve, but also are committed to giving back to the profession through their service to others.

“SHPEP is an invaluable program that continues to provide a pathway to increase the talent and diversity within our profession,” Timmons explained.

And this is a step toward making our community a better place.

The application process for the program generally opens in November and closes in February. If you are interested in participating next year, you can learn how to apply here.