DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) Rural communities in Wisconsin are seeing a growing shortage of dentists. But one state lawmaker, with the help of a St. Norbert College student, has proposed a bill to address the issue.
Ever since Bailey Miller was young he has wanted to be a dentist. And after graduating from St. Norbert College this year, he’s enrolling in Marquette’s dental school to pursue his dream.
“Perform dentistry, preferably pediatric back in the rural areas that I grew up in, where going to a dentist was a half hour, 45 minute drive just to get to a dentist,” said Miller.
Bailey wants to practice in his rural hometown, but has concerns. He worries if his starting salary will be enough to cover his student loan debt. And that is a concern that health experts and lawmakers say has many new dentists pursuing jobs in larger communities.
“The state average is for every 1,400 people, there is one dentist. In my county, Juneau County and others similar in rural areas, I have 4,000 to one,” said State Representative Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc).
And Rep. Kurtz says that has to change. So he’s pushing legislation called ‘Bailey’s Bill” to make that happen.
“In a nutshell, it’s about getting dentists out to rural areas,” Kurtz said.
Under the bill, first year dental school students at Marquette would receive $40,000 per year in tuition assistance for up to four years. In exchange they must commit to working in an undeserved area of the state up to six years after graduation.
“The goal is to get good quality dental care in rural areas that are suffering and if we get these young men and women in our area, chances are they are going to stay,” said Kurtz.
Miller supports the plan and testified before an Assembly committee last summer.
“In the grand scheme of things, if you think six years of your career, it’s very miniscule,” said Miller.
“Anything we can do to try to help rural healthcare in the long run, it’s going to help the state,” Kurtz said.
Five, first year students would be eligible each year. The bill passed nearly unanimously in the Assembly last month and has since been sent on to the Senate.