Dr. Mathew Pyfferoen

Dentists who are just out of school and ready to open a practice are being lured to rural Iowa by a program that offers a big hand toward paying off their college loans.

Dr. Ed Schooley, dental director for Delta Dental of Iowa, says the foundation’s loan repayment program offers new dentists a generous check, but it comes with a catch.

“It offers dentists $50,000 to set up practice in a shortage area of Iowa,” Schooley says.

“That goes against the dentist’s student debt and they then agree to allocate 35% of their patient load to serving underserved Iowans.” That includes Medicaid-eligible, elderly, disabled, and other underserved patients.

Fifty-five of Iowa’s 99 counties are designated as dentist shortage areas, and Schooley says most new dentists are in a deep cavity from years of student loans.

 “The average dental graduate is over $170,000 in debt and if they set up practice on their own, they’re looking at another $250-to-300,000,” Schooley says.

“A lot of dentists aren’t able to do that. This is a way for them to bypass the urban area and consider a rural area.” One or two grants are awarded each year. The program is in its tenth year and in that decade, Schooley says it’s made a significant impact.

“Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation has now generated over $1-million into this program and there have been 21 dentist recipients,” Schooley says. “They have seen over 40,000 patients.” This year’s recipient is Dr. Matthew Pyfferoen, a pediatric dentist in Ames, who graduated from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry in 2010.

The program is called FIND, for Fulfilling Iowa’s Need for Dentists. For more information, visit: www.iowafindproject.com