Dr. Gregory Chadwick, dean of East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine, was awarded the 2017 Gov. James E. Holshouser Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service on Friday, Nov. 3.
The UNC Board of Governors bestows the honor each year on one faculty member from the University of North Carolina system who exemplifies public service toward improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians.
“Our University and the entire state is indebted to Dr. Chadwick for his leadership and tireless efforts building ECU’s School of Dental Medicine and changing lives across North Carolina,” said UNC President Margaret Spellings.
The award ceremony took place at the board’s monthly meeting at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development. Following the presentation, Chadwick thanked his family members, university and dental school administrators, and fellow dentists across the state who helped make what he dreamed as a way to treat needy patients across the state into a reality.
“As our graduates go out into communities that need them, I hope they will always be curious and inspired to think there must be a better way and then roll up their sleeves and use their skills and talents to leave these communities healthier than they found them,” Chadwick said in his remarks to the Board of Governors after receiving the award.
“Accepting this award named in honor of Gov. James E. Holshouser Jr.,” Chadwick said, “is particularly meaningful not only because of Gov. Holshouser’s legacy and career-long commitment to service, but because he was a member emeritus of this Board of Governors when you granted ECU permission to award a dental degree and to start our school of dental medicine over 10 years ago.”
He added, “The ECU Community Service Learning Centers have seen over 49,000 patients from 99 of our 100 counties. ECU’s motto, To Serve, is part of our DNA.”
Chadwick is the fourth faculty member from ECU to win the Holshouser Award since it was first awarded in 2007. Dr. Carmen Russoniello won the award in 2015 for his work with veterans; Dr. Thomas G. Irons earned the honor in 2011 in pediatrics; and Dr. Lessie Bass won in 2008 for social work.
“Dr. Chadwick’s service is a testament to ECU’s longstanding commitments to provide health care and professionals across our state,” said ECU Chancellor Dr. Cecil P. Staton. “We are certainly proud of his service, and it is a great example of the commitment of ECU.”
From his days as a dental student and later as an endodontist in private practice in Charlotte, Chadwick—a native North Carolinian—knew his calling would lead him back to the quest for a solution to the glaring gap in oral health care for communities that faced a lack of practicing dentists and access to care. As a newly minted dentist serving at a community health center in Prospect Hill in Caswell County, Chadwick came face to face with the stark reality of that lack of oral health care.
“What really struck me was the needs of the people who had never received care,” said Chadwick. “I thought, ‘There must be a better way than this.’”
Something to smile about
Rether Tyler wishes everyone could see her smile. She does a lot of that these days.
When the Colerain resident got word in 2012 that the School of Dental Medicine had opened the first of its community service learning centers (CSLCs) in nearby Ahoskie, she jumped at the chance to be a patient. She had heard that the center would not only help educate future dentists, but treat patients in rural communities with limited or no access to dental care.
Tyler walked into the Ahoskie clinic and explained that she didn’t have insurance. “They said, ‘Come in, Ms. Tyler. Let’s talk about what you need,’” she recalled. “They took the time to listen to me and explain what it was they were going to do. The students and the faculty, they still treat me like family. They’re good people, and they do good work.”
Tyler’s experience is just one triumph that comes from Chadwick’s vision. Before the dental school even existed, Chadwick knew that what eastern North Carolina needed—what the entire state needed, statistically—was a school that would educate North Carolinians to become dentists and practice in rural communities for underserved populations. Not only was the dental school with a unique perspective and mission born of his efforts, but the community service learning centers—a nationwide innovation in education and service—were coordinated, built and opened under his unwavering watch.
The centers stretch across North Carolina, dotted from corner to corner on a state map, a virtual path to better oral health. Their existence and their precise locations were born of careful consideration for area statistics. How many dentists practice here? Is the population projected to grow there? How many people rely on Medicaid in these communities? Questions swirled, centering around the fact that North Carolina lags below the national average for dentists per population area. Preliminary studies revealed that one North Carolina community had one dentist per 22,000 people, and in other counties, there were no dentists at all.
Along with Chadwick, who was an advisor at that time working to help the dental school itself gain footing and working in an advisory capacity, Gary Fuquay — who served North Carolina as the head of Medicaid and built his career in public health — traveled across the state as a consultant and president of Fuquay Solutions to gauge the interest, fears and possibilities in the communities that were being considered as CSLC homes.
“Dr. Chadwick walked them through the mission and vision of the school, and how it is so different than other dental schools,” said Fuquay. “For him, it was all about hitting the ground, going face to face with county managers and public health directors, affirming the analytics and judging their willingness and desire to have a CSLC in their area.”
The eight CSLCs are now filled with talented and driven fourth-year dental students and residents, many of whom will practice in mirror images of the rural communities they are learning and gaining experience in.
A penchant for public service
Chadwick came to ECU in 2005 to lead the effort to establish the School of Dental Medicine. Prior to becoming dean in 2012, he served as the school’s associate dean for planning and extramural affairs and as interim dean before being named to the permanent post in 2012. Under his leadership, ECU graduated its inaugural class of doctors of dental medicine in 2015 and established the first of the CSLCs in 2012.
Chadwick earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNC-Chapel Hill. After graduating from the UNC School of Dentistry, he practiced general dentistry in community health centers before entering a residency program in endodontics. He earned a master’s degree in endodontics from the UNC School of Dentistry and practiced in his hometown of Charlotte for nearly 30 years.
Chadwick is a former president of numerous dental organizations, including the American Dental Association, the North Carolina Dental Society, the Second District Dental Society and the Southern Endodontic Study Group. He is a fellow of the International and American Colleges of Dentists, the Academy of Dentistry International and the Pierre Fauchard Academy and a founding member of the Holiday Dental Conference. A diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics, Chadwick served for 18 years as a part-time clinical professor at his alma mater and for 14 years as chair of the endodontic section at Carolinas Medical Center, where he served on the faculty for more than 25 years. He was selected by a 24-member Board of Regents from all 17 districts in the International College of Dentists USA Section as Outstanding Dental Leader in 2015.
One of Chadwick’s standout accomplishments came during his time as president of the ADA, when he made “Give Kids a Smile” a national event. The initiative provides free oral health services for children with little to no access to dental care.
“This event occurs in every state each year,” said Dr. Jasper Lewis, a pediatric dentist with Eastern Orthodontics & Pediatric Dentistry in Greenville who travelled to Chapel Hill to see his long-time friend and colleague received the award, “and has been responsible for delivering millions of dollars of free dental care to over 5.5 million underserved children.”
Even with a dental career that has spanned many years—and the globe—Chadwick’s focus has always remained steadfast on service to North Carolinians.
“After he completed his term as president (of the American Dental Association), we continued to discuss opportunities for him to become more involved in dental education,” said Dr. Rick Valachovic, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association. “ECU announced its interest in starting a dental school, he became involved in the planning and I was able to serve in a consulting role. The rest is history.”
From the ground up
On any given weekday, Ross Hall, home to the ECU School of Dental Medicine, is bustling with students, faculty and clinic patients. Pristine corridors open into warm and welcoming waiting rooms, and patients are guided to treatment rooms not long after arriving. But after the patients and staff are gone for the day, Chadwick can be found hanging on to the last of the work day, visiting labs and greeting students.
“He sits and talks with students,” said Dr. Maggie Wilson, vice dean and associate dean for student affairs in the ECU School of Dental Medicine. “He knows all the students by name, which is not particularly common for someone in his position.”
Those students, Chadwick knows, are the future of dental care in North Carolina. The more they understand the mission they represent and what is expected of them, the more they understand their valuable role in service to their state. “When it comes to admissions, he asks, ‘Who are the people who are most likely to serve the people of North Carolina?’” Wilson said. “He looks at everything through that lens.”
It’s those considerations that help students and graduates like Dr. Nicole Beasley, who grew up in the small town of Jackson in northeastern North Carolina, realize who they have in their corner. “Toward the end of my residency, Dr. Chadwick met with me to discuss my career path,” says Beasley. “He has two children who worked as dentists in community health centers, so he provided insight on the process and guided me as to what questions I should be asking. I knew I would have all the resources and training I needed to go back home and practice in a rural area.”
The future wasn’t always so clearly and confidently mapped out. Before Chadwick joined ECU, he recognized the potential and the promise of a dental school in the East, run by the university for the betterment of public health. He networked across the state to persuade dental professionals, legislators, UNC system institutions and other stakeholders that a dental school at ECU was not only necessary, but vital.
“Any public servant has to be very authentic and trustworthy,” said Dr. Michael Scholtz, assistant dean for extramural clinical practices for the School of Dental Medicine. “He was just so resilient through the whole thing because he felt so strongly about the mission of the school and the ECU mission of public service.”
Chadwick’s strong connections and reputation across the state helped make a convincing case for the dental school itself early on, said Dr. Steve Ballard, who served as ECU chancellor between 2004 and 2016. “We never would have gotten anywhere without his passion and his political understanding,” said Ballard. “We were all trying to figure out how to get a new school that was not going to be cheap.”
Through the support of many key players, Chadwick successfully traversed the challenges and dissent from other dental schools and skeptics. It reminded some of the battle that then-chancellor Leo Jenkins faced trying to establish a medical school at ECU during the 1970s. “Because Leo was successful and Brody [School of Medicine at East Carolina University] did what it said it was going to do,” said Ballard, “that did a lot for the dental school.”
These days, with Ross Hall standing on ECU’s health sciences campus and the CSLCs each up and running and producing their own daily triumphs, it’s hard to imagine any uncertainty. Chadwick had a vision for change, for shining a light on communities that had fallen back in the shadows long before.
“The ECU School of Dental Medicine will be recognized,” said Dr. Gordon DeFriese, professor emeritus of social medicine and epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Schools of Medicine and Public Health, “as one of the most innovative and impactful professional schools of dentistry to have been created in the last 50 years.”