Planned Dental School in Yakima Gets Founding Dean
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima has a new dean to take its future dental school from a vision to a reality.
Dr. Fotinos Panagakos will be the founding dean of the PNWU School of Dentistry, which is in the developmental stage, according to a press release. The new dental school will train dentists for rural and underserved communities.
“I’m just very honored to have been selected. Dental schools don’t open every other day, it’s rarer,” he said in an interview. “And to be asked to take on this responsibility and realize how important it is not just for the university, but for the Yakima Valley and the wider Pacific Northwest.”
Panagakos said the next step is to recruit additional teachers.
Then comes the accreditation process, which can take about 12 to 18 months, he said. The school principal must develop institutional documents and submit them to the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
“I wouldn’t want to start recruiting students until we know we have this accreditation in hand,” he said.
There is no firm opening date for the school, but Panagakos is anticipating fall 2025 as a reasonable timeframe to welcome its first class.
The University of Washington has the only dental school in the state, although several dental hygiene schools exist on both sides of the Cascades. While UW’s dental school has a rural outreach program for its students, information from the Rural Health Information Center shows gaps in care remain.
All of eastern Washington — except for part of Grant County — is considered a dental shortage area, according to RHIH.
An aging workforce of rural dentists, combined with the generally high cost of dental schools and the need to repay student loans contribute to the problem, Panagakos said.
The PNWU dental school will one day train a dental workforce to help alleviate the problem.
“We will be training primary care dentists, to go into these underserved communities and provide oral health services as well as general health services,” he said. This includes screening for diabetes and high blood pressure, offering nutritional counseling, and identifying behavioral or emotional issues.
The goal of PNWU’s dental school reflects the university’s broader goal of producing qualified health care professionals to serve rural and underserved areas, Panagakos said.
Panagakos is associate dean for research and postdoctoral affairs at the West Virginia University School of Dentistry, but PNWU’s selfless outlook is part of what drew Panagakos to the Yakima School.
“This mission really resonated with me here in West Virginia,” he said. “We have a similar challenge with underserved populations in very rural communities.”
His post at PNWU begins remotely in early May, he said. He will stay in West Virginia to see the rest of his college year and start.