East Carolina University (ECU) School of Dental Medicine has received a grant worth nearly $400,000 to expand its rural residency program. The grant comes as a portion of more than $1.5 million North Carolina is receiving from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve access to health care and educational services in rural communities.
ECU plans on using the grant to implement a telemedicine system. The program will allow dental residents to receive academic lessons via teledentistry equipment while working at three rural clinics in underserved areas of the state. It will also allow consultation about complex cases with specialists in Greenville, North Carolina.
"The School of Dental Medicine requires a higher level of connectivity, distance education, and telemedicine to fulfill our mission to serve areas of need in rural North Carolina," said Dr. R. Todd Watkins, Assistant Dean for Dental Education and Informatics at the dental school. "The USDA grant will be instrumental in allowing us to achieve our unique clinical, educational and research missions."
Sites will be located at dental school community service learning centers in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, and Sylva, and the telemedicine capabilities should be operational by the end of next year. The funds will also pay for a central telemedicine site at the school's new Ross Hall, under construction on the ECU health sciences campus. After the initial sites are in operation, ECU plans to apply for another grant to fund telemedicine at sites in Lillington and Spruce Pine.