Dental students’ personal goals align with school’s vision

The ECU School of Dental Medicine bestowed clinical white coats upon 51 students in the Class of 2021 during a ceremony on the evening of Nov. 8. The event signaled that these second-year students are ready to apply their intensive course work and clinical knowledge to patient care in the clinics of Ledyard E. Ross Hall.

“From this point on, you will be held to a higher standard—that of doctor of dental medicine and a member of the dental profession,” said Greg Chadwick, dean of the dental school. “The white coat symbolizes the most important relationship of your professional life—the relationship between patient and doctor.”

A crowd of 450 friends and family members joined the celebration along with the dental school’s faculty and staff and distinguished guests from the American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists, Pierre Fauchard Academy, North Carolina Dental Society and Old North State Dental Society.

The students have studied intensively for the past 15 months. They have wrought their hand skills in the clinical technique lab and practiced dentistry on mannequins in the clinical simulation lab.

Very soon, dressed in scrubs and disposable gowns (rather than white coats), they will begin treating patients alongside faculty, residents and advanced students in Ross Hall.

During their fourth year, the students will gain invaluable experience treating patients at the school’s eight community service learning centers in underserved communities across North Carolina. Many of their patients will have chronic health conditions and unchecked dental disease, including periodontal disease and tooth decay.

All of the 22 women and 29 men in the class are North Carolina residents; the majority range in age from 20-25. Twenty-one students are from counties considered rural by the North Carolina Rural Center.

Many of the students have charted a course toward dentistry since they were very young. They shadowed dentists in high school and college, volunteered for dental missions, became certified in dental assisting and dental hygiene, achieved undergraduate and graduate degrees—all the while networking with dental professionals.

Bryan Yang receives his white coat.

Bryan Yang receives his white coat.

Most importantly, however, the students’ professional goals align with the School of Dental Medicine’s vision of improving the health and quality of life of all North Carolinians. They, too, are anxious to change the state’s oral health statistics and change lives for the better.

Bryan Yang studied chemistry and dental hygiene at UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a master’s degree at NC State University in physiology. His parents are survivors of the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime.

“My parents risked their lives to make it possible for me to be here today,” said Yang. “One of my goals as a dentist is to be culturally competent in treating all patients. The community service learning centers are extensions of the school in areas of need. I am eager to learn from the different populations and believe it will help prepare me to be the dentist I aspire to be.”

When Josh Stewart, from Greensboro, and his wife learned that their son would be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, they might have despaired, but they pushed through and sought the help they needed. As Josh daily applied the nasoalveolar-molding device to his infant son’s cleft, he resolved to one day help other families in the same way.

“Though there isn’t a simple solution to the complex problem of inadequate access to dental care for many North Carolinians, part of the school’s mission is to forge leaders with a passion to care for the underserved,” said Stewart. “My education here will equip me with the tools needed to go into those underserved segments of the population to help close that gap.”

Thaina Quiles is president of the dental school’s Hispanic Student Dental Association. She grew up in Puerto Rico but moved to Durham, N.C., and holds a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from UNC-Chapel Hill. She hopes to help make dentistry more accessible to minority and underprivileged patients.

Skyler Lagcher receives her white coat

Skyler Lagcher receives her coat from Dr. Paul Lindauer and Dr. Roopwant Kaur during the School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2021.

“I have a particular interest in helping people of my Latino heritage, and I hope to have an influence in healing some of the negative connotations and stigmas related to the topic of dental care within this population,” Quiles said. “This institution values serving the underserved communities in our state, and I trust that they will equip me in every way to accomplish my goals.”

Originally from Robeson County, Rudy Oxendine is a member of the Lumbee tribe, a former Greenville police officer, an ECU graduate, a husband and father and a student deeply rooted in the eastern part of the state.

“I consider it an obligation to further the mission of the school,” said Oxendine. “After nearly 15 years of service as a police officer in eastern North Carolina and family roots in the region, it is home. I will remain here after graduation and serve the people.”

Pinetown native Skyler Lagcher said it took moving away before she realized how much she missed the sense of community she’d known as a child.

“In my professional career, I hope to fulfill our school’s mission by serving the populations of our state and embracing my role of service within my community,” said Lagcher. “Specifically, eastern North Carolina has my heart, and I aim to give back to the roots that nourished me.”

Dr. Nikki Tucker, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, led the class in reciting their pledge. The final stanza bodes well for improving oral health in our state.

“Together, we affirm our commitment to uphold the ethical values of the dental profession as we serve our communities in North Carolina.”

Deborah Simmers receives her white coat.

Deborah Simmers receives her white coat.