Alumni's Endowed Scholarship to Help Fund Education for HPSA Students

Mary Truhlar assisting studentsTo say that Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine shaped Mary Truhlar’s life and career trajectory would be an understatement.

It was in the school’s lecture halls, laboratories and clinic where Truhlar’s passion for dentistry materialized and grew as a dental student. Along the way, she met numerous lifelong friends and colleagues, including her future husband, Rich, who was a year ahead of her. Their family took root in the Three Village community, and it’s where the Truhlars made an impact as academics and dental care providers for more than three decades.

It all traces back to an opportunity that Truhlar, originally from the Syracuse area, received to attend Stony Brook. And now, through the Drs. Richard and Mary Truhlar Endowed Scholarship, it’s the kind of opportunity that she and her husband have committed to giving others from upstate New York. The scholarship fund is designated to help fund the dental education of prospective students from Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) in New York.

“Dentistry has been an important and incredible part of my life on so many levels,” she said. “When Rich and I attended, the school was very new. Tuition was extremely affordable, yet it provided us with an excellent foundation for our careers and our family. With this scholarship, we wanted to help the school continue to provide the caliber of training that it did when we were students, and, unhindered by debt, allow the next generation of dental professionals to attend school and choose the type of careers they want and we’ve been able to have.”

Adding to its impact, endowment gifts to The State University of New York institutions in 2024 are matched by 50 percent from the New York State Matching Fund for Endowment Contributions program.

“As administrators, professors, colleagues and mentors, Mary and Rich Truhlar have been part of the fabric of this school for more than 40 years,” said Patrick Lloyd, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “We are incredibly appreciative of their generosity, which will help students pursue their dreams of becoming a dentist, and help to alleviate the oral healthcare disparity that so many areas in New York are experiencing.”

Mary and Richard Truhlar as dental students
  Mary and Rich Truhlar as dental students

More than five million people in the state live in dental HPSAs, categorized by the United States Health Resources and Service Administration as regions with one dentist or fewer for every 5,000 residents or more. Thirty-eight percent of counties upstate are dental HPSAs.

From Truhlar’s own experience, and from the stories she has heard from upstate students during the admissions process, receiving care often necessitates a one- or two-hour drive. For specialty care, in some areas, it’s even more. It not only makes it more difficult for upstate residents to find care; it acts as a deterrent.

Those shortfalls spurred the SDM’s initiative to recruit students from HPSAs, as research has shown that they are five times more likely to return to the area to practice. The Truhlar Scholarship, too, will help create that bridge.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to now see students have chances that they might not have been otherwise able to have,” she said. “So many students have undergraduate debt, and then dental school debt, that drive the decisions they’re going to make in their careers. I’m excited to help give them more freedom to decide in which direction they will go, without this inordinate financial burden.”

Truhlar enrolled in the School of Dental Medicine in 1980, and after four years there she completed a two-year general practice residency at Long Island Jewish Hospital. She went on to receive her Master of Science in dentistry from Marquette University in Wisconsin, as well as a fellowship certificate in geriatric dentistry from Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) in 1988.

Truhlar returned to Stony Brook in 1990, and has been at the school ever since. In her tenure as its dean from 2014-2020, she established the oral and maxillofacial radiology advanced education program, launched the state-of-the-art Center of Implant and Digital Technology, and spearheaded many of the school’s outreach efforts, including to areas upstate. Truhlar currently serves as a professor in the Department of General Dentistry, which she has been a part for more than three decades, and chaired from 2005-2014.

“I’ve had many different roles here at the school, from education to administration,” she said. “The relationship we have with our students, the way we know them, work with them and mentor them, really impacts their education, which is incredibly valuable and quite rewarding.

“Because I teach fourth-year students in clinic, and they’re on the cusp of graduating, they’re starting to stress a little about what residency is going to be like, and what their career is going to look like,” she continued. “And I tell them that I’d absolutely do it all over again. Without question, Stony Brook gave Rich and I the education and resources we needed to be successful, and it still does for students all these years later.”

Rich Truhlar passed away in 2022 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He, too, had a strong affiliation with and affinity for Stony Brook, practicing periodontics at the Northport VAMC while also teaching in Stony Brook’s Department of Periodontics and Endodontics. The passing-down of such knowledge to students from HPSAs will continue, in part, due to the Truhlar Scholarship, a contribution that Mary Truhlar said has more to do with the trail that it blazes than the name attached to it. She has enjoyed having a front row seat to seeing students transform into skilled, prepared clinicians over their four years at Stony Brook.

“I really believe that Stony Brook provides one of the best, most comprehensive dental educations you could ever hope for,” she said. “I believe that this scholarship can open a path for students from HPSAs to make their way back home to practice, where their expertise is needed the most.”

This story first appeared in Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine's magazine, On the Cusp. View the entire issue here.