The 2012 CDA Foundation Student Loan Repayment Grant recipient Kongsab Hatlavongsa, DDS, and his family came to the United States as refugees from war-torn Laos when he was just 6 months old.
He’s come a long way.
After obtaining a law degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law in 2001, he graduated from the UCSF School of Dentistry in 2011. Hatlavongsa then began working in a United Health Centers community health clinic in Mendota, Calif., where he aims to provide accessible dental care to primarily farm worker families and the underserved.
The Student Loan Repayment Grant has helped him do the type of work he loves without having to stress about the debt he accrued in school.
“The grant has really helped me and my family. I am able to fulfill my calling of serving the dental needs of the underserved through this generous grant,” Hatlavongsa said. “Not having the burden to worry about a large student debt has helped allay my decision to work at a community clinic, and not have to choose a different career path because of heavy student debt.”
In exchange for a commitment by recipients to care for the underserved, the CDA Foundation awards selected recent dental school/specialty graduates with the Student Loan Repayment Grant to help repay their educational loan of up to $35,000 per year for a maximum of $105,000 over three years.
The application for the 2013 Student Loan Repayment Grant is now available at cdafoundation.org/receive. The deadline to apply is July 31, which is a few weeks earlier than in previous years.
Hatlavongsa, who takes pride in providing quality dental services to the underserved and educating them about the importance of oral health care, said working in a community clinic for a few years would give any new dentist a unique work experience.
“I believe that working in a community clinic really exposes a dentist to a diverse patient population with some medically complex issues. The opportunity to serve this population has really enhanced my skills and has made me a better dentist,” Hatlavongsa said.
In addition to the experience, Hatlavongsa encourages new dentists to apply for the grant because he knows how high the debt burden is that dental students have to take on these days.
“Many of my graduating colleagues had student debts upward of $200,000, $300,000 or even more. Some, like me, are married and wanted to start a family after graduating,” Hatlavongsa said. “Since all of my colleagues wanted to be responsible and pay off our debts as quickly as possible, many of them decided not to pursue careers in underserved areas because the compensation at those clinics is lower.”
“Unfortunately, this comes at a time when more and more people are in desperate need of access to quality dental care but are unable to afford such care as a consequence of the financial recession,” Hatlavongsa continued.
This is where the Student Loan Repayment Grant comes in.
Since 2002, the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant program has placed 13 dentists into community clinics where they’ve helped more than 62,000 patients and provided nearly $16 million in care for individuals who would otherwise go without. And, virtually all of those dentists have remained not only in public health, but in the communities where they first served.
Hatlavongsa wants more dentists to work in community clinics and even shared some tips for potential Student Loan Repayment Grant applicants.
“I remember completing the application process very quickly. I had to answer a few questions. The applicant just needs to answer the questions honestly; show their enthusiasm and love of dentistry; and show a commitment to work in an underserved community,” Hatlavongsa said.
For more information and to apply visit, cdafoundation.org/slrg.