Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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DENTAL SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

The UNLV dental school has determined that 10 members of its first graduating class of 71 students -- administrators refuse to release the names -- were caught using the computer password of a part-time faculty member to sign off on patient treatment plans, diagnoses, and other work.

An honors council including students, faculty advisers, and an associate dean was assigned to investigate. In May, they recommended the culprits be required to redo their final year at the school. As an alternative -- indicating how widespread the casual attitude towards willful, organized cheating has become -- they suggested the students should be allowed to pay a fine and perform 1,000 hours of community service.

In the end, interim Dean Richard Carr ordered the students to perform 1,500 hours of community service over the next five years, and allowed them to graduate with their class. Board of Regents Chairman Brett Whipple says he received a call from the father of one of the students protesting that the punishment was too harsh, since his son had done all the work, but had merely forged the approving signatures.

Have we entered the Third World? Student honors councils and administrative wrist-slaps are fine if the offense charged has to do with the rowdiness of youth -- celebrating too hard after finishing exams and driving the dean’s car into the duck pond.

But we are not talking about teen-agers blowing off a little steam. We speak here of adult graduate students who seek professional certification that they can be trusted to administer general anaesthesia, to diagnose and treat potentially life-threatening conditions. And “If you cheat on something little, you sure as hell will cheat on something big,” warns Chancellor Jim Rogers, offering some refreshingly adult input.

Or should he have put that the other way around? For the Nevada state dental school was born of fraud and misdirection -- should we really be surprised that’s also what it teaches?

The initial promise of the dental school’s sponsors was that such a school would cost the state nothing -- Medicaid funds that foot dental care for poor children would simply be channeled to the new school, covering its entire budget in exchange for the instructors’ willingness to perform the needed charity work -- “community service,” if you will.

When that turned out to be illegal, a new pair of schemes was hatched. The state contracted with Sierra Health to handle the Medicaid contract -- paying that firm a percentage of the take for this legal “cover” -- and meantime the state bought out three private Southern Nevada dental practices, the intention being to take over those patient rosters, have dental school faculty tend to those patients’ dental needs, and use the resulting profits to fund the dental school.

But those patients fled in droves. They “more or less found other service providers,” recalls state Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, who replaced the father of the dental school, Ray Rawson, in Carson City.

(It was Sen. Rawson, a dentist by trade, who famously testified for the prosecution in an Arizona murder trial, helping put a defendant known as “The Snaggletooth Killer” on death row by claiming he could identify the suspect by his bite marks in a dead woman’s flesh. The condemned man was released with an apology after the real culprit turned up.)

The bottom line? In 2004, the dental school collected only $2.35 million in registration fees. The rest of its $26 million budget came from taxes of one form or another -- and that budget has continued to grow.

Sen. Rawson? When last heard from, he was trying to launch a dental school in Hawaii -- and having trouble getting it accredited. It’s unclear whether the curriculum would include “Bite-Mark Forensics.”

Now, will the patients of these 10 culprits be warned in advance they’re patronizing a dentist who leans toward keeping quiet about any mistakes he or she may have made -- perhaps doctoring a few X-rays to cover up the problem? That they’re in the hands of someone who thinks rules against dipping into the painkillers while on the job are “just some technicality”?

In fact, because patients won’t be able to tell the good from the bad, the safest thing for any American dental patient to do will be to assume this is true of any and every graduate of the UNLV Dental School ... won’t it?

So, apparently, UNLV is now to be represented in the public mind by two proud icons -- that famous photo of her NCAA championship basketball players sharing a hot tub with an infamous game-fixer, and now a graduation photo of dentists who cheated to get their diplomas. Maybe patients should win a prize if they can “guess which ones.”

Who will supervise these 15,000 assigned hours of “community service”? Come on -- the culprits will be “on their honor,” won’t they? And what are the chances any of these diplomas will be revoked, five years hence, if they just don’t bother?

Such academic improprieties do not affect the school’s accreditation status, according to Dean Carr.

Really? Who’s accrediting this program, that guy in Nigeria who keeps insisting he’s got $2 million for us in an unclaimed bank account?

The reason this offense is so serious is that typically in dental school, “Everything has to be checked off by an instructor,” warns Frank Drongowski, a maxillofacial surgeon who teaches part time at LSU and practices part time in Southern Nevada. In this case, “You have students who think they’re above that and are essentially working without an instructor being involved.”

The fledgling UNLV School of Dental Medicine is in the process of flunking its first test -- and it’s a big one. If these offenses were as charged, the school has just issued 10 fraudulent diplomas which should immediately be revoked. Let the 10 cheaters seek other lines of work, and let future classes -- and the public -- be assured that Nevada’s dental school is not some Caribbean diploma mill.

Or -- better yet -- just close it down. The Medicaid dollars now funding the dental school would be better used in neighborhood dental clinics in underserved communities, according to Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas. And Nevada already has more dentists per capita than the national average. Who needs a shoddily-run, expensive boondoggle that will only bring us shame and ridicule?

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