That’s the average debt for 2016 dental school graduates nationwide, according to the American Student Dental Association.
That fact is not lost on Jeff Carter ’76 MD, DMD. Carter, a proud UConn alum, is founder of the Oral Surgical Institute and medical director of the Specialty Surgery Center, both in Nashville. He believes that this accumulated educational debt has a significant impact on students interested in becoming oral surgeons.
“The educational debt of dental school graduates can further increase if they pursue specialty education,” he said. “For example, entering an oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMS) residency is much more expensive than being in general dentistry. This is due to the costs of interviewing and site visits; and, approximately 50 percent of oral and maxillofacial surgery residents must pay medical school tuition for three additional years.”
That’s why he wanted to give back to future surgeons with a $50,000 gift to establish the Carter Family Award at UConn’s School of Dental Medicine. He hopes to ease students’ debt burden and provide them with scholarship funding to visit oral surgery residency programs, which is an essential step as students prepare for the competitive National Resident Match Program.
“Students must visit many programs in the U.S. as they interview for their residencies,” he said. “This donation is directed at students in their formative years—between junior and senior year—with the hope that it may provide them with a stipend to travel to oral surgery programs, tour different universities, and elect the best educational option.”
Dr. Carter’s career, which has spanned nearly 30 years in academia and oral and maxillofacial surgery, began at UConn after he obtained an engineering degree from Tufts University. Originally from Shelton, Conn., he enjoyed the opportunity to study graduate biological sciences at a respected research university, taking classes alongside medical students for two years. UConn is one of very few colleges that combines medical and dental students for initial coursework for 18 months. For dental students, this is a significant advantage, as they can earn a DMD instead of a DDS.
“The intertwined curriculum of the dental school with the medical school built a solid foundation upon basic science knowledge and collaboration,” he said. “This background was the ideal start for advanced surgical training.”
He is also grateful for the strong mentorship he received at UConn.
“Dr. Les Cutler, DDS, Ph.D and David Krutchkoff, DDS were professors who demanded subject mastery,” Dr. Carter said. “Each of them strongly enforced the desire to learn how dentistry could be integrated into the healthcare spectrum.”
Among his many accomplishments, Carter opened the first Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMS) Medicare-certified, ambulatory surgery center in the country in 1992. He’s enjoyed his multifaceted and rewarding career and has sponsored a surgical fellowship and an OMS internship program for nearly 30 years, totally funded by his private practice.
“A case that comes to mind was a seven-year-old child who weighed 30 pounds,” he recalled. “He was brought from Honduras to our practice because his left jaw joint was fused because of a chronic middle ear infection. He couldn’t open his mouth since the age of one. We reconstructed his jaw and improved his opening to a normal range. He stayed in the U.S. another month, gained 15 pounds, and then wrote us a touching letter to thank me for allowing him to “eat chicken like the other kids.'”
Through his work and with his generous gift, Carter believes the opportunity to pay it forward is a rewarding one and he encourages others to follow suit.
“The hope is that people will look back on those formative years and see where UConn gave them a competitive advantage,” he said. “UConn graduates are doing an outstanding job of becoming leaders in my specialty. These graduates have become dental school deans, residency directors, and members of the elite American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Examination Committee. These accomplishments validate the strength of UConn.”
Dr. Carter and his wife, Toni, are the parents of four children: Cristin, Courtney, Jeffrey, and Chelsea, and four grandchildren.
Posted by: Tiffany Ventura Thiele