CSLC-Ahoskie celebrates anniversary

Students, residents and staff paused to commemorate the 10th anniversary of CSLC–Ahoskie on June 3. (Photo by Spaine Stephens)

Students, residents, faculty, staff and community members gathered at the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine’s service learning center in Ahoskie on June 3 to celebrate the clinic’s first decade of serving eastern North Carolina.

The celebration was more than an anniversary — it was a milestone that honored the opening of the school’s first of eight CSLCs across North Carolina. The centers provide oral health care for patients in rural parts of the state faced with lack of access and a shortage of practicing dentists; they also offer students and residents valuable experience working in clinical settings in different communities.

The CSLC–Ahoskie helped set a precedent for the centers that opened later, becoming the “gold standard” which others would follow. Dr. Ford Grant and Dr. Nicole Beasley, a 2016 graduate of the School of Dental Medicine, serve as faculty director and assistant director, respectively.

Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, recognized those who were present from the start of the school and the CSLC, reminiscing on the conversations during which the ideas were born and the determination it took to make the school and centers a reality.

“I think it was a newspaper that asked me, ‘What would be your dream?’” Chadwick said. “My dream would be that somebody from the community would be inspired to be a dentist, become a dentist, go to ECU, and come back to the community. Nicole, you have made that happen.”

Beasley grew up near Ahoskie, graduated from the dental school and served as a dentist at federally qualified health center before becoming assistant director in Ahoskie.

Chadwick said the path to the CSLC’s success was remarkable because of the people who have invested in its mission.

“I don’t think we ever thought in our wildest dreams that this would be so successful,” he said. “Many times, your dreams can be exceeded.”

The afternoon sun shone through windows where Chadwick remembered standing when the first group of students rolled in on an ECU bus for the ribbon-cutting 10 years ago.

Dr. Nicole Beasley and Dr. Ford Grant, the faculty directors of CSLC–Ahoskie (Contributed photo)

“This is a beautiful clinic,” Dr. T. Rob Tempel, the school’s associate dean for extramural clinical practices, told the gathered employees, “but one thing more beautiful is the people who make up this team. It’s amazing to see how this clinic has developed as a team.”

The CSLC–Ahoskie sits on the corner of Ahoskie in Hertford County, surrounded by farmland and small businesses, and connected to the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center that partners with the CSLC and the school to provide care, resources and access to local residents.

Roanoke Chowan Health Center CEO Kim Schwartz remembered in 2005 when the conversations began about adding a dental component to the center’s resources.

“We were thinking, ‘How in the world are we going to do this?’” Schwartz said.

She began reaching out to regional entitities dedicated to the health and wellness of eastern North Carolina, and her efforts caught the eye of Dr. Tom Irons, a physician and leader in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU and in regional health care, who connected Schwartz with Chadwick.

Fourth-year students Rachel Downs, Rebecca Agner and Kari Wordsworth celebrated the 10th anniversary of CSLC–Ahoskie on June 3. (Photo by Spaine Stephens)

That partnership resulted in two offices connected physically and intertwined in their missions to serve rural communities.

“Today, we are still the only community health center and dental learning center that are co-located,” Schwartz said. “We are still the only one.”

Grant shared his story of being a practicing dentist in Charlotte when he was approached about being the faculty director of the CSLC–Ahoskie.

“Turns out I came up here and everything started clicking,” he said.

Fourth-year dental students Rebecca Agner, Rachel Downs and Kari Wordsworth attended the anniversary event; they were beginning their first of three CSLC rotations in Ahoskie. All three said they were fortunate to witness an event that honored the history and legacy of the first CSLC.

“It’s really cool to see how far the school has come,” Downs said, “and it’s cool to see the reputation that this CSLC has gained among the patients, to watch that and observe it.”