Identifying effective means to recruit dentists to rural communities is an ongoing priority for the profession.1 In Newfoundland and Labrador, rural communities (population less than 10 000), are home to over 40% of the population2, but only a much smaller percentage of the province’s 185 dentists3 practice in remote areas. Although financial recruitment incentives have been offered to encourage health professionals to work in rural and other underserved locations for decades, most of the literature in Canada has focused on physicians and little is known about programs targeting dentists.
In 2008, Newfoundland and Labrador launched the Rural Dental Bursary Program and the Specialist Bursary Program to encourage dentists to work in the province. Bursary recipients must be Canadian citizens accepted into a training program recognized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Board. Each program provides dentists with $25 000 per year for a maximum of 3 years. In return for each year of funding, general dentists and specialists must work for 1 year in a rural or in-need area of the province. If dentists are unable to complete their service requirement, they must pay back the funding with interest, prorated for any service time provided.
There were 29 dentists who received a bursary between 2008 and 2012. Using administrative program data, we took a closer look at the 12 dentists who concluded their involvement with the bursary programs (i.e., completed training and contract obligations).
Ten of them had received a rural bursary and 2 had received a specialist bursary. Ten graduated from Dalhousie University and 2 attended other Canadian universities. Eight received 2 years of funding and owed 2 years of service, while the other 4 dentists received 1 year of funding and owed 1 year of service. Eleven (91.7%) of the 12 dentists completed their service in full and 1 dentist worked part of the service commitment and paid back the remaining funding. In sum, all 12 dentists fulfilled the terms of their contract.
Although based on early data from a single jurisdiction, return-for-service bursaries are a promising means of addressing dentist shortages in rural and underserved communities. More research is needed to evaluate the impact of the bursary programs on the retention and geographic distribution of dentists in the province.
- Smith RG. Bridging the rural-urban divide. J Can Dent Assoc. 2010;73:a97.
- Statistics Canada. Population, urban and rural, by province and territory (Newfoundland and Labrador) [accessed 2013 Nov 4]. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo62b-eng.htm.
- Canadian Dental Association. Licensed Dentists in Canada by Province – 2013 [accessed 2013 Dec 18]. Available: www.cda-adc.ca/en/services/fact_sheets/dentistincanada.asp.