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News Release

Date: 5/13/2007

Arizona's only dental school graduates first class

53 students earn doctor of medical dentistry degree from a.T. Still University

MESA, Ariz . – A.T. Still University (ATSU) will celebrate the inaugural commencement of its Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health – Arizona’s first and only dental school – on Saturday, May 19, 2007 at Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona. Fifty-three students will receive their Doctor of Medical Dentistry (D.M.D.) degree.

“This commencement marks an important milestone for ATSU and the State of Arizona,” says James J. McGovern, Ph.D., president of A.T. Still University. “Not only are the 53 students graduating from the only dental school in Arizona, but these graduates have demonstrated a profound sense of compassion, integrity and ability. They already are becoming leaders in improving community health and wellness.”

The Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health began addressing the nation’s oral healthcare needs in 2003. A study conducted by ATSU and a blue ribbon panel of the country’s leading dental experts confirmed the need for a dental school in Arizona. Arizona ranks 44th for the ratio of dental providers to people. In 2002, Arizona had one dentist for every 2,520 residents, and most of those providers are in urban areas “Those graduating from the dental school have demonstrated a commitment to improving the oral health of Americans, particularly the underserved,” says Jack Dillenberg, D.D.S., M.P.H., dean of ATSU’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health. “Greater than 30 percent of our graduates will provide oral healthcare in Community Health Center settings in Arizona and around the country. They will positively impact some of our nation’s most fragile populations, including children, the physically compromised, the homeless, and the elderly.”

Commitment to American Indian dentists

“An integral component of  ATSU’s mission is its commitment to serving American Indians. There are only 85 American Indian dentists in the United States, and only one American Indian dentist for every 35,000 American Indian people,” says Craig P. Phelps, D.O., FAOASM, provost for A.T. Still University – Arizona Campus. To help focus on this underserved population, George Blue Spruce, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant dean of Indian Affairs at the ATSU’s dental school, was appointed to help encourage American Indian youth to pursue a career in dental healthcare. Blue Spruce was the first American Indian to graduate as a dentist in the United States. He formerly was Assistant Surgeon General of the United States. As a result of these efforts, four American Indian students will be graduating from the dental school.

The dental school offers a doctor of dental medicine (D.M.D.) degree, along with a certificate in public health. During the first and second years, students study on the Mesa campus, using computer-based instruction and digital resources, and in a dental simulation laboratory. Beginning in the second year and continuing in the third and fourth years, students gain valuable experience and provide compassionate dental care at an on-campus dental clinic as well as clinical sites in underserved communities throughout Arizona and the United States.

Four honorary degrees will be awarded

As part of the commencement, four honorary doctoral degrees will be conferred: America Y. Bracho, M.D., M.P.H., C.D.E., chief executive officer and president of Latino Health Access; Charles W. Grim, D.D.S., M.H.S.A., assistant surgeon general of the United States and director of the Indian Health Service; Marian Osterweis, Ph.D., health policy and program consultant and former chair, A.T. Still University Board of Trustees; and Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, 17th Surgeon General of the United States and vice chairman and chief executive officer of Canyon Ranch and president of Canyon Ranch Institute. Carmona will also deliver the keynote address during the commencement ceremony.

Carmona has dedicated his life to improving the health and well-being of Americans. As a renowned champion for disease prevention and health promotion for individuals, families, and communities, Carmona served the country for four years as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. He returned to his hometown of Tucson, Ariz., to lead Canyon Ranch, a health and wellness community. Prior to being appointed Surgeon General of the United States, Carmona was chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System and a professor of surgery, public health, and family and community medicine at the University of Arizona.  He also was chief executive officer of the Pima County healthcare system and medical director of the police and fire departments. Carmona was a high school dropout and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he joined the Special Forces, ultimately becoming a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and is also certified in correctional health care and in quality assurance.

Bracho is a nationally known expert in the area of Latino health issues and health education. She founded Latino Health Access, a center for health promotion and disease prevention that assists the multiple health needs of Latinos in Orange County, California. Under Bracho’s leadership, the center has become a model for facilitating the mechanisms of empowerment for the Latino community and using participatory approaches to community health education by training community health workers as leaders of wellness and change.

Grim has spent his career dedicated to providing quality healthcare service to American Indians and Alaska Natives. A native of Oklahoma and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Grim began his career with the Indian Health Service in 1983 and was appointed director by President George W. Bush in 2003. As the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for Indian people, the Indian Health Service is responsible for providing preventive, curative, and community healthcare to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Grim served the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service in 1998, and was instrumental on strengthening the Phoenix Area’s capacity to deal with managed care issues in areas of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program of Arizona.

Osterweis is a national expert on health education, healthcare delivery and public policy. For 16 years, Osterweis was executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Association of Academic Health Centers, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the nation’s healthcare system through strengthening the academic health center enterprise in health professions education, patient care, and research. As chair of A.T. Still University’s Board of Trustees, Osterweis provided the vision and leadership to launch the University’s dental school.


A.T. Still University is the leading institution at the forefront of multidisciplinary healthcare education founded on the principles of whole person care. It boasts the nation’s newest – and Arizona’s first – dental school, the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health,and the world’s first osteopathic medical school, the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. The University also provides osteopathic medical education through its newest school, the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona. In addition, it offers online health management training programs through its School of Health Management and trains healthcare professionals in several allied health fields through the Arizona School of Health Sciences in Mesa, Arizona.