Dental medicine students treat patient
Second-year Hunt School of Dental Medicine student Anna Ceniceros works with a pediatric patient in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic.
For the new academic year, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso welcomes a diverse group of students as the country's next generation of culturally competent health care leaders.
TTUHSC El Paso is one of three health sciences centers in the U.S. designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions and the only one on the U.S.-Mexico border. Forty-eight percent of its students are Hispanic, and 52% are from Texas border counties. The education students receive not only prepares them to practice in border counties like El Paso, but for the changing face of America.
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts Hispanics will account for 25% of the U.S. population in 10 years. However, less than 6% of physicians in the U.S. identify as Hispanic. To fill the gap, TTUHSC El Paso is educating future Hispanic health care providers who are bilingual, thanks to required medical Spanish courses for medical and dental students. In 2020-2021, 64% of the university's graduates, including M.D. recipients, identified as Hispanic.
First-year Foster School of Medicine student Melissa Esparza is ready to begin her journey at the university — one she dreamed of as a child, growing up just a couple miles south of El Paso in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. When Esparza was 12, she and her family moved to El Paso, fleeing a wave of violence that emerged on the other side of the Rio Grande. "Although I was 12, I understood as a woman in Mexico, my opportunities were limited," Esparza said.
In middle school, she developed a passion for science, leading to a fascination with medicine. She was accepted into the Foster School of Medicine in 2022, where she's learning to be a physician in today's world, thanks to community immersion courses and early clinical experiences. "Attending medical school in my hometown has been an enriching experience," Esparza said. "It's allowed me to give back to the community that shaped me into who I am today."
Since 2009, the Foster School of Medicine has educated nearly 800 graduates who have become or are becoming practicing physicians. Joining the workforce ensures that Health Professional Shortage Areas like the Borderplex — which includes Texas, New Mexico and Mexico — will meet the demand for access to patient care.
A few feet from where medical students train, Anna Ceniceros, a second-year Hunt School of Dental Medicine student, is improving her dentistry skills in the school's Dental Learning Center. Ceniceros, the daughter of hardworking migrant farmworkers, arrived in El Paso from Clarendon, Texas, a Panhandle town with a population of just over 2,000.
In elementary school, Ceniceros attended a field trip to a dentist two hours from her hometown. She didn't know who a dentist was or what they did. The experience changed her life and she never stopped thinking about becoming a dentist. "Coming from an underserved area has been integral in my desire to become a dentist," said Ceniceros. "Now I'm sitting in the dentist's chair doing what I've dreamed about for decades."
In her second year of dental school, Ceniceros is also mastering medical Spanish. The Hunt School of Dental Medicine is the first in the U.S. with a medical Spanish requirement, and the school's curriculum also includes clinical experiences within the first semester, a nontraditional approach among most dental schools.
"The biggest lesson I've learned is there's always more skill development. I'm excited to put into action the new procedures we've learned and serve the community that supports us," Ceniceros said. In one year, she and her peers have provided more than 5,200 hours of clinical care in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, the clinical arm of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
This year, the 61-member class of 2026 joined Ceniceros's inaugural class of 40. Over a third of the class of 2026 come from West Texas and the U.S.-Mexico border region, including three from New Mexico.
Because most graduating dentists establish practices near their schools, the school will alleviate a shortage of dentists in the Borderplex. In El Paso County, there's only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to a national average of one for every 1,638.
In addition to adding more physicians and dentists to the workforce, TTUHSC El Paso is educating future biomedical researchers at the Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences who study the dynamics of health conditions affecting Hispanic populations.
Research conducted by faculty and students at TTUHSC El Paso is crucial in saving lives among our community due to cutting-edge studies that produce results specifically for people of our border region. Often, minorities, including Hispanics, are excluded in studies and clinical trials, meaning the results of those initiatives rarely benefit residents of El Paso County, 82.9% of whom are Hispanic.
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Original Source: TTUHSC El Paso Welcomes Diverse Student Body for New Academic Year