ROCKPORT, Maine — Maine’s greatest asset in its quest to attract more dentists — and just about everything else, for that matter — is the quality of life for those who choose to live here.
That’s the philosophy behind a program that brought 53 dental students to the Samoset Resort on Friday and Saturday for a conference sponsored by the Maine Dental Association.
“The idea is to showcase what a great place Maine is to live and practice,” said Frances Miliano, the association’s executive director. “Maine is just like a lot of rural states in that we have a maldistribution of dentists. There are probably enough in southern Maine, but there are shortages elsewhere.”
The state already offers incoming dentists a partial loan repayment program through the Finance Authority of Maine, as well as a pilot program that gives new dentists income tax credits. During the election next month, Mainers will decide whether to borrow $5 million to create a dental school at University of New England in Biddeford and dental clinics across the state.
Those measures help, according to Jonathan Shenkin, who finished his term as the Maine Dental Association’s president on Sunday, but in the big picture they’re not enough to convince a graduate with valuable skills to sell to locate in a remote Maine town. The Maine Board of Dental Examiners has calculated that the number of dentists in Maine has increased by about 60 in the past four years, according to Shenkin.
“The biggest challenge is not getting dentists to move to Maine, but getting them to move to the right places,” said Shenkin. “These young graduates are going to want to live in large population centers. Even if they do go to a remote part of Maine they face the challenge that a lot of people can’t afford dental care.”
Four third- and fourth-year dental students from the University of Pittsburgh said Saturday that they wouldn’t have attended the MDA’s conference if they hadn’t had their trips subsidized with $200 in cash and free meals, funding provided by Northeast Delta Dental and the Maine Office of Rural Health and Primary Care. The students said Maine is the only state that’s ever tried to recruit them.
“We’d never have known about this conference if it weren’t for receiving an e-mail from the Maine Dental Association,” said Sean Quigley of Seattle, Wash. “They sent the same e-mail to all the students in our school, to come see Maine.”
Devin Nelson of Alberta, Canada, agreed. “It made it really easy to come,” he said.
Two of the Pitt students, Tom Draper of Michigan and Brett Richins of Utah, who are both in their third year of dental school, said they are seriously considering coming to Maine when they graduate. Draper said he was already familiar with the state from visits here when he was younger, and Richins said he’s attracted by the state’s natural environment. Richins said he drove to Bangor on Saturday morning just to look around.
“There’s a lot more city there than I expected,” he said. “I thought it was very nice.”
Richins and Draper said they were eager to attend the MDA-sponsored dinner Saturday night where they could meet dentists from throughout Maine.
“Maine has definitely done the best job of any state in trying to attract us,” said Draper.