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Meet some inspiring women in dentistry

June 17, 2014
The president of ADAA feels privileged to meet some special women

I recently had the opportunity to attend the second Annual Lucy Hobbs Project Celebration by Benco Dental in Orlando, FL. For those of you who do not know about Lucy Hobbs, she was the first woman to become a licensed dentist in 1866. Dr. Hobbs had been denied entrance to dental school because of her gender. She learned dentistry through apprenticeship, and eventually graduated from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

Dr. Hobbs’s journey is much like that of our own Juliette A. Southard, who was determined to unite dental assistants by building a national organization. The persistence, tenacity, and vision of these extraordinary women paved the way for all of us who have come along later. If you do not find this inspiring enough, consider the number of dental assistants today who give tirelessly of themselves to their profession.

I am often humbled by many of the dental assistants I know who continue to give to their profession, not for monetary gain or public recognition, but for the love of what they do. As I’ve traveled to state meetings across the country this year, I continue to be inspired by some of the dental assistants I’ve met, as well as some of those who have received honors from their peers. I would like to share a few of these stories with you.

The Oklahoma Dental Assistants Association’s Dental Assistant of the Year Award went to Dixie Thomas. Dixie supported students at the University Of Oklahoma College of Dentistry from 1987 until she retired in 2012. Even after retirement, she became a part-time instructor at the Metro Tech Technology Center. Colleagues and friends describe Dixie as someone who gives of her time and energy, is always willing to help where she can, and is referred to as the ODAA “Yes Person.” This can-do, helpful attitude was exemplified by the fact that she was not present to accept her award during the General Assembly because she was at the dental school, assisting dental students taking their boards.

Barbara Williams of the South Carolina Dental Assistants Association was honored in May at their Annual Session with the Dr. Walker H. Garrison Memorial Achievement Award. This is the SCDAA’s version of a “lifetime achievement” award. In addition to having worked in private practice, Barbara was the Supervisor of Dental Assisting at the Medical College of Georgia, the Program Director at Augusta Technical College, and is currently an adjunct instructor at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, S.C.

Dr. Gina Ormond, Dental Clinical Director at Midlands Tech, describes her as, “A silent lady in many ways, but her knowledge and intelligent mind are very loud.” She motivates not only her peers, but also doctors and students. Any member of the SCDAA will tell you that Barbara is much like the Oklahoma Dental Assistants Association’s “Yes Person”; she has a “can do” attitude and never fails to jump in and assist where she’s needed for both local and state levels. It’s not uncommon for graduates of Midland Tech’s Dental Assisting program to refer to her as “Mrs. Williams” rather than by Barbara, long after they’ve graduated, they have that much respect for her. Barbara continues to give selflessly of herself to her students and the dental community out of devotion to her profession.

I was introduced to Courtney Sprayberry this year, a dental assisting student at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, S.C. Courtney opened my eyes to the fact that you do not have to be a seasoned dental assistant in make an impact in your profession. Courtney has already made a significant mark in the world as a volunteer at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic, as a member of the Greenville Tech SADAA Chapter, and as the Chairperson of their Outreach Committee. Greenville Tech’s SADAA Chapter’s community outreach project this year was to raise money for Smile Train, which provides free cleft repair surgeries to those in need while training area doctors.

Through Cortney’s leadership, fundraisers, and private donations, the Greenville Tech SADAA Chapter raised enough money to reach their goal of providing five surgeries. An anonymous donor committed to match four-to-one if their goal was met by May 30, so through the hard work of these dental assisting students, their efforts will actually help 20 individuals. Each year, the South Carolina Dental Association presents The Mary Clary Memorial Achievement Award to the student (one hygienist and one assistant) who has done the most outstanding work for the advancement and future of the dental auxiliary profession in S.C. Through a combination of GPA, personal essay, a recommendation from the program director, and community service, it was no surprise that Courtney was this year’s recipient. In addition to serving the dental community in her new profession, Courtney serves her country as a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard.

I began my dental assisting career 30 years ago. I was not able to complete my program of study due to a move from Florida to South Carolina. I knew I wanted to finish what I had started, so I went to the local community college and had a conversation with the program director. Maria Marchant didn’t know me at all when I walked into her office. We decided that between where I had left off in Florida and where they currently were in their program, it was not the best idea for me to enroll at the school. Then she did something unexpected – she mentored me. She helped me study and prepare for the Dental Assisting National Board. She didn’t have to do that; she gave selflessly of herself. Now retired from teaching and assisting, Maria still serves on the SCDAA Board, and I am honored to say that Maria continues to be a friend after all of these years.

Did any of these extraordinary women set out to make a difference in order to be recognized or rewarded? No. They simply set out to make a difference. Those who give often get back tenfold. These are only a few stories about incredible women making a difference in the lives of others without any thought of recognition for themselves. I’m sure each of you reading this article knows at least one person who is an “unsung dental assisting hero.” In an age where the question seems to be “What’s in it for me?” it’s gratifying to know that we’re surrounded by dental assistants who ask, “What can I do for others?”

Lori Paschall, CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, FADAA, is the 2013-2014 president of the American Dental Assistants Association.