Ten years ago, Tufts University unveiled its pioneering Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for alumni who pursue careers in the nonprofit or public-service sectors. Thousands have benefited from it, including the five profiled here from the School of Dental Medicine. In the 2016-17 cycle, three hundred and forty-nine alumni from all Tufts’ schools received awards, said LRAP Administrator Matthew Reardon, with the average amount at $1,367. Recipients can collect awards for multiple years. “This is recognition of our graduates who really want to work with underserved populations,” said Dean Huw Thomas. Funding comes from the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, A88, H11, and his wife, Pamela, J89, H11. The next deadline for applications is December 1; for more information, visit lrap.tufts.edu.

 

Gregory Fredette, D12

When Fredette graduated from Tufts, student debt weighed on his mind. “I knew that for every major life decision I would make, my school loan would be a major player,” he said. And although the Tufts loan-repayment program did not affect his 2013 choice to join Goodwin Community Health’s Dental Center in Somersworth, New Hampshire, it did bring some welcome relief: He wasn’t shouldering his loans alone.

After starting his career in a Quincy, Massachusetts, private practice, Fredette jumped at the chance return to his home state of New Hampshire. “It was a great opportunity to not only build my skills and become a better dentist,” he said, “but also to help a community where a fair number of patients have no place else to go to get dental care.” And since he grew up about twenty minutes away from Goodwin’s office, it offered a chance to give back to the community where he was raised.

It makes Fredette happy to help people who can’t afford dental services without state aid or the sliding-fee scale offered by Goodwin—especially the children who come through the clinic doors. “There are a lot of ways to be a dentist and for me that means improving the lives of my patients,” he said. “That works creates a certain level of happiness and helps create, for me, a great work-life balance. That’s important: to find a happy place.”

 

Erin Murphy

Erin Braukus Murphy, D09

Murphy hopes that Tufts’ loan-repayment program will give dental school graduates reasons to consider a career in public health. “We need dentists to work with and for the poor,” said Murphy, who works with the Keystone Health Center, based in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Loan assistance from Tufts not only chips away at her debt; it also gives her the freedom to pursue her calling. “I chose public health because I knew I would make the biggest difference in the lives of people who needed help.”

Murphy knows from her childhood how poverty can be obstacle to good health care. “We had government assistance and food stamps, and I know how tough it can be,” she said. At Keystone, about 65 percent of patients qualify for state assistance. “I see their struggles,” she said. “I make sure I acknowledge them as a person by saying something personal.”

And the patients notice. Murphy recalled, for instance, an unexpected Facebook review saying how her team goes out of its way to make people comfortable. “I really appreciated hearing that,” Murphy said. “It’s proof to me that you get out of life what you put into it.”

 

Amanda Jones Theodorson

Amanda Jones Theodorson, D09

Theodorson appreciates how the Tufts loan-repayment program enriches the lives of its graduates as it also touches the lives of countless patients. “It feels good that Tufts is giving back to graduates,” said Theodorson, a dentist at Unity Health Care in Washington, D.C. “The university appreciates that we’re working hard in a field that a lot of people don’t choose for financial reasons or because it’s exhausting. It makes me really proud of Tufts.”

The university appreciates that we’re working hard in a field that a lot of people don’t choose for financial reasons or because it’s exhausting. It makes me really proud of Tufts.

Theodorson speaks with similar enthusiasm about her work. An externship with the Rhode Island Department of Correction was so energizing that, after two years in private practice, she starting looking for similar opportunities in a community health setting. She found a match in 2011 at Unity, a network of community health centers that serves a diverse population, including the homeless and the incarcerated. “I have patients cry tears of joy because we’ve taken care of tooth that has been hurting them,” Theodorson said. “If I can make them smile, then maybe I have given them a little something they carry on with them.”

And while her debt upon graduation was daunting­—$240,000 in all – it did not sway
her choice to work in public health. “I am appreciative of what I have – my family, my friends, the joys of life—and it’s work that really grounds me.”

 

Anthony Pasquale

Anthony Pasquale, D07

When Pasquale showed up for a five-week externship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Bath, New York, he wasn’t expecting a full-time job. But shortly after he started in July 2007, he was thrilled to be invited to join the team. He would get to work with his mentor, Steven Speroni, A78, as well as with veterans. “My father is a disabled veteran,” Pasquale said, “and I saw this opportunity as my way to serve.”

That six-year experience with the Veterans Administration opened Pasquale’s eyes to the importance of coming up with an ideal treatment plan. Because of federal funding support, “the work could be done independent of cost; it was really all about formulating the best plan for the patient, and we always found ways to make it happen,” he said.

The first five years after dental school can be the roughest financially; I was making the lowest earnings of my life and my loans were the highest, so I appreciated whatever help I could find.

He also benefited, personally and professionally, from loan-repayment assistance that has saved him thousands of dollars. “The first five years after dental school can be the roughest financially; I was making the lowest earnings of my life and my loans were the highest, so I appreciated whatever help I could find,” he said. Eventually, he and his wife, Alison Gomes, D08, were able to purchase a family practice in Northwood, New Hampshire, where they now also raise three young children. “I think it also indirectly made me a better clinician,” Pasquale said. “I could focus on doing my job well.”

 

Fields Farrior

Fields Farrior, D08

During his roughly five years in private practice, Farrior yearned to work in education. “My mother was a teacher and my dad did work for a university,” he said, “so it was always something that I wanted to do.” Beyond that, he hoped to make a difference in higher education, where about 60 percent of dental school educators are over the age of sixty-five.

“There is a really big problem in attracting younger educators, and one of the deterrents is that if you chose to work in education, you are paid considerably less than if you pursued private practice,” said Farrior, associate clinical professor at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine in Maine. “The Loan Repayment Assistance Program is great for the dental program if no other reason than to help us attract professionals into these lower-paid positions.”

There is a really big problem in attracting younger educators, and one of the deterrents is that if you chose to work in education, you are paid considerably less than if you pursued private practice.

At the University of New England, home to Maine’s only medical and dental schools, Farrior recently took on a larger role as associate dean of clinical education and patient care. From his vantage point mentoring young clinicians, Tufts’ loan-repayment program reflects well on his alma mater. “Tufts is supporting its graduates to follow their desires,” he said. “And at the same time, it’s building a relationship with its alumni that is long lasting—that’s a fantastic gesture.”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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Laura Ferguson, senior writer at Tufts and regular Tufts Now contributor, can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.