In the fall of 2013, the new school welcomed its inaugural class into the five-year dental surgery degree program. The students spent their first two years of training with their medical school classmates at the University of Rwanda’s School of Medicine in Huye before beginning dental training in the capital city of Kigali. They were steadfast in their desire to learn. The inaugural class adopted the nickname “The Pioneerz” and became close friends.
“Some of the students had never experienced a dental visit and did not know any dentists,” Hackley said. “This was not only a new school and program, but totally new territory for them, so they truly are pioneers. They were faithful and resilient throughout the program. I’m incredibly proud of all they have achieved.”
The learning curve went both ways, and faculty found they often had to keep up with the eager students.
“The passion for education and desire to gain knowledge among the Rwandese students is unmatched. As a faculty member, I involved myself with the students beyond the classroom to accommodate their thirst for knowledge. As a teacher, there is nothing more joyful than being surrounded by the knowledge-seeking eager students, and Rwandese students gave me enormous joy,” said Mohammed Razzaque, visiting professor of oral health policy and epidemiology.
Important work was also done outside the classroom to better understand Rwanda’s oral health needs. Last year, Hackley worked with colleagues in Rwanda and at Tufts School of Dental Medicine to plan and conduct the nation’s first oral health survey. The study found a substantial burden of oral diseases and conditions, with pediatric and adult populations having many unmet dental caries and periodontal treatment needs — underscoring the importance of greater access to dental care and the need for the new school. The results will inform workforce and delivery system planning, allow for oral health monitoring, and build research capacity.
“In rural areas we need more care. People outside of town suffer a lot because of lack of care,” said Julienne Murererehe, assistant lecturer at the University of Rwanda. “Graduation is a very big achievement not only for the students and faculty, but for the whole country. It’s important for the development of oral health services in Rwanda.”
HRH funding will provide ongoing support for the program for the next six years. HSDM faculty will continue to assist with curriculum delivery and provide technical and strategic support as the school shifts to its new campus.
“It was hard work,” acknowledged University of Rwanda School of Dentistry Dean Chrispinus Mumena. “We have done our best and worked together with team spirit, to reach farther than any one of us could reach alone. I am very proud of our graduating students. I am also very pleased with the collaborations between our faculty and the HRH Rwanda program.”
The Pioneerz have fulfilled their own dreams of becoming the first homegrown dentists prepared to serve their nation.
“I’m very excited and happy for today’s graduation, it is the day I have waited for, for a long time,” said graduate Joseph Nshimiyimana. “We are going to do our best to achieve more for our country.”