BLUEFIELD, Va. — Click here to see the video
Officials with Bluefield College, the town of Bluefield, Va., Tazewell County, and members of the community had a chance to meet with the inaugural dean of Bluefield College’s School of Dental Medicine Monday.
Dr. Frank Serio, the newly selected dean of the school, met with Bluefield College President Dr. David Olive and Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer to discuss the progress of the new school with members of the community. Serio said he is looking forward to coming to Bluefield, Va., when he officially joins the college staff and faculty on June 3.
Serio said he will begin helping with the recruitment of staff and faculty for the school when he starts full-time at the college.
“One of the things critical is the fact that this is a faith-based school and we will be working based on that,” Serio said. “For the community, the building is tangible, but for us the building is just a space where we can do what we need to do. Curriculum will be different than at a college and the faculty here at the college has already started with that. The staff at the school will include teachers for basic sciences and early dental classes for first year students. As you go up, you need more staff. The dental clinics will need dental assistants, secretaries, business people and support staff. I can’t give you an exact number at this point, but I am hoping that we will hire more than we initially estimate as this school grows.”
As part of the curriculum for the school, Serio said he wants to establish a community clinic where dental students will provide services to the community at a reduced rate.
“Dental patients will be treated by students under the supervision of dental professionals,” Serio said. “A lot of people in this area cannot afford dental care. People coming in to us as patients will get a treatment plan and have students under supervision working with them. The fees for patients at these dental clinics will be 40 percent to 50 percent less than at a regular clinic. The clinic revenue will help pay for clinic expenses and it will be cheaper compared to what it could be. We will also be looking for funding to help low-income patients.”
Serio said senior students will also be working alongside area dentists in local dental clinics as part of their graduation requirements and to encourage them to stay in the community.
“Our hope is that these students will become competent and comfortable practicing in the local communities,” Serio said. “We want students comfortable in the community clinics and senior students will work in the community and provide care in some of these local clinics. Students will spend two or three weeks at a clinic in Grundy or in Wise and other communities in the area under the supervision of a dentist as part of their curriculum.”
Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer said progress is being made on the design portion of the building project as well as finding funding for construction.
“We have been interviewing three firms and hope to choose one very soon,” Spencer said. “We have $4.5 million for the brick, mortar and equipment part of the building. We have a lot of applications for funding pending. There is another larger pot of funds we will be applying for in July. The college is applying for some and the county is applying for some. This building is not your typical architectural project. You are basically designing a small hospital.”
Serio said the construction of the dental school will have to include specialized equipment including plumbing, compressed air, medical gas, suction, which can increase the cost of the building project.
“Fortunately, the architectural firms we have met with are experienced,” he said. “The question isn’t getting the job done, but putting all of the pieces into place. We have a reasonable but aggressive schedule, but we also have a practical temperament. We would rather open later than not be prepared when we open.”
Though it may take a while for the school to be established, Serio said he wants the dental school to make a lasting impact on the region.
“Our measurement of the success of this project will be about 10 or 15 years down the road,” he said. “It takes students on average three to five years after they graduate dental school to land where they will be permanently. Our success will be measured by increasing dental service to the community and providing more dental services to the region. You will see success as the building goes up, as the staff and students come in, as the community comes in for services and as graduates walk across the stage.”