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ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership graduate selected for Harvard fellowship

May 05, 2014

By Kimber Solana

Harvard bound: Dr. Rosenthal says her ultimate objective is to help as many people as possible.
Memphis, Tenn.—Raised by a single mother in a low-income urban neighborhood, Dr. Christina Rosenthal said she knew education was her ticket to success.

"I just love education," she said. "It has always been my way to escape or confront the issues in my life. I know it can be the same for others."

That may be why, at 35 years old, she's again going back to school.

In June, Dr. Rosenthal will be packing up her belongings and moving to Massachusetts as the 2014-15 fellow for the Joseph L. Henry Oral Health Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University.

"I've been telling my husband that I've been thinking about going to school again," she said, laughing. "But coming from where I'm from, I could never have imagined myself going somewhere as prestigious as Harvard."

The one-year program is designed to prepare oral health leaders, over time, to help improve the capacity of the health care system and address the health needs of minority and disadvantaged populations—something with which Dr. Rosenthal is already familiar.

As part of the 2010-11 class of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, she created Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS), a Memphis-based program that provides mentorship and resources to high school students (age 14-18) who wish to obtain doctorate degrees.

The program's goal: Help young people who come from similar backgrounds as Dr. Rosenthal's become health care professionals in hopes they will return to their communities and help decrease health care access disparity.

A 2005 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, Dr. Rosenthal, who is African-American, said she was lucky, despite a lack of career direction, to have found a passion in dentistry.

"I was just so naïve," she said. "I went to college with a goal of becoming a cardiologist, but I majored in Spanish. Somehow, it all worked out in the end. The DDS program has been such a success and it was the direct result of my time with the Institute for Diversity in Leadership."

It was also through the institute that she learned of the Harvard fellowship opportunity and decided to apply.

"Dr. Rosenthal stood out among this year's applicants due to her passion for public health, commitment to educating the general population on the significance of oral health and her desire to address health disparities impacting vulnerable populations,"said Joan Reede, M.D., dean for diversity and community partnership at Harvard Medical School.

The fellowship program will provide Dr. Rosenthal academic and leadership training, including in health policy and management, and apply her training through firsthand experience in private and public sectors.

Dr. Rosenthal will also receive mentoring from Harvard senior faculty and administrators and can utilize resources at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine to enhance networking, career development and career advancement.

"We have no doubt that Dr. Rosenthal will be one of the leaders the fellowship program envisions improving the capacity of the health system to meet the needs of the entire population," said Dr. Charles Norman, ADA president. "We are confident that as she strives to advance important public health goals, she will inspire others in the Institute program to follow her lead."

The Joseph L. Henry Oral Health Fellowship in Minority Health Policy was established to honor Dr. Joseph L. Henry, Harvard University School of Dental Medicine's first black full-time professor. Dr. Henry also served as interim dean of the dental school from 1990-91.

Dr. Henry believed in the importance of mentoring and cared about the academic and career advancement of students, trainees and junior faculty without regard to race, ethnicity or gender, said Dr. Reede.

"The fellowship continues Dr. Henry's legacy by providing resources for the next generation of leaders who will improve the capacity of the health care system to address the health needs of minority and disadvantaged populations," said Dr. Peggy Timothe, director of Harvard dental school's Office of Diversity Inclusion.

Dr. Rosenthal is hopeful she can use the skills and knowledge she'll gain from the fellowship to achieve three main goals: create a curriculum or book that will help dentists become more business savvy; advocate for states to require oral health exams in schools; and expand her DDS program nationally.

"My long-term objective has always been to help as many people as possible," Dr. Rosenthal said. "I know that's very general, but there's really no other way to say it."