Numbers of graduate and post-graduate dental programs are highly competitive for admissions. Administrators and faculty at these institutions often hold an inordinate degree of power and control over students and applicants. Unfortunately, unethical, and potentially criminal extortion has ensued against vulnerable students.
UCLA School of Dentistry
On August 30, 2022, the Los Angeles Times reported on a troubling case that targeted Middle Eastern orthodontic residency applicants to the UCLA School of Dentistry. Allegedly, professors extorted additional entry fees for students “believing their wealthy government sponsors could — and would — pay for it.”
In this alleged scheme, specific applicants to this highly competitive residency program were required to pay “extra fees” (Baksheesh). Involved professors allegedly received financial incentive and bonus compensation based on student payments.
International post-grad students already pay a substantial tuition of approximately 6-figures. Residency program fees are $70,000/year for international students. An added tuition with the joint master’s program of $30,000/year is generally also tacked on.
After receiving whistleblower complaints, UCLA retained the law firm of Hueston Hennigan to investigate and report on their findings. The disturbing study uncovered two professors had violated University and State of California conflict-of-interest laws, and a third had retaliated against a professor who wished to step forward and expose the scam.
Martin G. Martz, DDS, MS, the faculty whistleblower at UCLA School of Dentistry, apparently suffered thousands of dollars in legal fees and months under the stress of allegedly retaliatory litigation. Today, Martz is an assistant professor of orthodontics at Loma Linda University.
Subsequently, the three professors cited as defendants in a civil lawsuit initiated by UCLA have reached a settlement agreement with the university and have resigned. Both formal charges and disciplinary actions have been dropped. Now the three professors are in a legal battle to maintain their secrecy and stymie the release of court records.
Cleveland’s MetroHealth General Practice Dental Residency Program
Edward R. Hills, DDS and his criminal crew of associate dentists are today convicted felons. Hills, as director of the dental general practice residency program at MetroHealth, and his subordinate criminal cohorts were sentenced in 2019. Hills received over a 15-year sentence.
Among a number of crimes, the group was convicted for extortion of dental residency students for added “fees,” which directly profited these criminals. Primarily foreign national dental students were targeted, especially Jordanians.
In addition to unlawful “Baksheesh” payments to the perpetrators, which they termed “donations,” residency students were required to work for no compensation at the private dental clinics owned by dentist members of Hills’ mob.
Hills formerly served as MetroHealth’s Dental Director, interim President, and CEO of the MetroHealth Hospital System, and as a past-President of the Ohio Board of Dentistry. Today, Hills and his fellow conspirators are in federal prisons.
NYU College of Dentistry
New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry formerly had a requirement for graduating dental students, that in their last two-years of practice in the undergraduate clinics, they generate a $38,000 production quota. One student was allegedly advised of her $2,000 shortfall on the day of her graduation in 2009.
She was scheduled to enter a pediatric residency program in Boston the following day.
The student paid the $2,000 shortfall out of her own pocket. Later, NYU determined that to be an ethical breach and mandated she work-off the money in their student/provider clinics.
After working off the production quota debt, the doctor entered her post-graduate residency program. Soon after, the university forwarded a formal letter nullifying her combination undergraduate and dental degrees, which resulted in the doctor dropping out of her residency training.
The doctor brought a legal action against New York University to reinstate her degrees, in which she prevailed. During the approximate three-year period of the legal process, she earned a baccalaureate degree from Perdue University and her dental degree from Illinois University.
NYU College of Dentistry has subsequently discontinued their dollar production quotas placed on dental students. The doctor involved does not list her court-ordered degrees earned from NYU, and today practices the specialty of orthodontics in North Carolina.
The dental education-industrial complex leaves the average dental grad with a student debt of nearly $300,000. This money is federal loan funding, and as such, is generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy court, except for “undue hardship.”
Shakedown extortion scams are an apparently easy play upon vulnerable dental students. Regardless of whether the student is a foreign national or a US citizen, their accrued debt load places them at risk for disreputable senior professionals, who may demand added dishonest costs.
Too often, to protect their largess of tuition money flow, universities desire little public disclosure on these deceitful and harmful activities. Are dental students to be viewed as junior colleagues by their professors, who seek education and direction in pursuit of their chosen career? Or are dental students fresh meat for the grinder, ripe for extortion, and meant to have as much extracted out of them as feasible?
On a personal note, I recall a dental university department chairperson, who called me into his office three-months prior to my scheduled graduation in 1981. I had completed my required units of crown-and-bridge fixed prosthodontics ahead of time.
Perhaps he wished to congratulate me, or reassign some of my patients to other students who struggled to meet university requirements?
No. He demanded I continue my production levels within his department, or he assured me I would not graduate with my class. I later learned he was bonused on student dollar income numbers in his clinics. He was clearly “putting the squeeze” on me.
Nearly 20-years later, I attended a post-graduate educational assembly at my alma mater. At the meeting luncheon, a eulogy was given in reverence for the same full professor and department chair, who was recently deceased.
In attendance, there were highly notable doctors within state and national organized dentistry, and highly beneficent donors to the university and many charitable causes.
These usually reserved, conservative, and esteemed doctors broke out into a heckling session continually interrupting the speaker’s testimonial. It devolved into a rather mean-spirited roasting of the deceased professor. Sarcasm flowed like water from the tap. Story after story spoke to the bitter truth of this pathetic excuse for an educator, followed by thigh-slapping riotous guffaws. Only in death was this dental educator held to account for his true legacy.
Obviously, dental education has a long and troubled history with extortion of dental students. Whistleblowers who attempt to expose the truth may face retaliation. Universities too often succumb to cover-ups and non-disclosure legal agreements, which serve the continual flow of tuition money, and not student welfare.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Michael W. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He also provides attorney clients with legal expert witness work and consultation. Davis also currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer Review Committee. He can be reached at MWDavisDDS@Comcast.net.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Kenny Eliason on Unsplash.