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Harvard fellow shadows ADA executive director

February 02, 2015

By Kimber Solana

Shadowing ADA leaders: Dr. Christina Rosenthal (center) poses with Dr. Kathleen O'Loughlin (left) and Dr. Carol Gomez Summerhays (right) for a photo at the ADA Headquarters boardroom. Dr. Rosenthal, the 2014-15 Joseph L. Henry Health Fellow in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University, shadowed
Dr. O'Loughlin for about three days, including attending the President-Elect's Conference hosted by Dr. Summerhays at ADA Headquarters.

As part of her fellowship at Harvard University, Dr. Christina Rosenthal needed to shadow a major public health leader. It took only seconds for her to come up with a name.

"Who better to shadow than the person who heads my profession's organization?" said Dr. Rosenthal in choosing Dr. Kathleen O'Loughlin, ADA executive director.

"We're both women juggling responsibilities at work and at home," she said. "I thought it was a perfect match."

For about three days, Dr. Rosenthal was at Dr. O'Loughlin's side during meetings, conference calls, the President-Elect Conference and more from Jan. 11-13 at ADA Headquarters. It was part of a special program activity that pairs the 2014-15 Joseph L. Henry Oral Health Fellow in Minority Health Policy with a public health leader.

The shadowing experience allows fellows to meet and interact with a public health leader while observing day-to-day operations of a public health office or institution.

Harvard fellow: Dr. Christina Rosenthal listens to a presentation during this year's President-Elect's Conference held Jan. 11-13 at ADA Headquarters.
Dr. Rosenthal began her fellowship in July 2014 and is scheduled to graduate May 28. The one-year program, named after Joseph L. Henry, who in 1975 became Harvard University School of Dental Medicine's first black professor, 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 youth. Dr. Henry served as interim dean from July 1990 to June 1991.

Prior to the fellowship, Dr. Rosenthal was part of the 2010-11 class of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership. The 2005 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry also manages her own practice and founded Determined to be a Doctor Someday, a Memphis-based nonprofit program that provides mentoring and resources to high school students who wish to become health care professionals.

"Dr. Rosenthal is extremely professional and eager to learn," Dr. O'Loughlin said. "Her background grounds her in the real world of the challenges many individuals face in the health care system and in achieving success in their own careers. Christina has a practical viewpoint, and realizes that higher level action through policymaking and implementation is more powerful than what one individual can do as a private practitioner."

Dr. Rosenthal credits several mentors for shaping those views and career.

"So many people contributed to my success, and I am so grateful," she said.

There's Dr. Waletha Wasson, a dental instructor at UT dental school who Dr. Rosenthal says continues to be a "shoulder to cry on"; Dr. Wisdom Coleman, a UT dean of admissions who was instrumental in Dr. Rosenthal's decision to go to dental school; Dr. Rederick Miller who allowed her to get work experience after graduating from UT; Dr. Joan Reede who gave her the opportunity to become a Harvard fellow; Dr. Raymond Gist, a former ADA president who wrote her recommendation letter to Harvard; and Dr. Delois Roberson, a dentist in Memphis.

"When I expressed an interest in dentistry, I wrote a letter to every dentist in Memphis," Dr. Rosenthal said. "(Dr. Roberson) was the only to respond and allowed me to shadow her. She even took me to my first Tennessee Dental Association conference."

The long list of mentors is another thing Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. O'Loughlin have in common.

"I had tremendous mentors and sponsors in my career, and I want to pay it forward as my way of saying thank you to all of them," Dr. O'Loughlin said. It was another way to practice something she continues to encourage more seasoned dentists to do — mentor the profession's next generation.

"Sponsoring our young professionals and mentoring them is what all professionals should be doing in order to protect our collective future," Dr. O'Loughlin said.

Other ways dentists can mentor the next generation of the profession, she added, include being available for advice on everything from managing a practice to how to run a household as a busy professional; helping a new dentist with career choices; providing a sounding board for ideas; being a shoulder to cry on during disappointments; opening doors to new growth opportunities; and mitigating the risks that one takes throughout life.

While shadowing Dr. O'Loughlin at the President-Elect Conference, Dr. Rosenthal also had a chance to learn more about the challenges and changes facing organized dentistry while meeting some of the volunteer leaders tasked on improving the profession.

"Attending the (President-Elect's) conference made me so proud of my profession because of how progressive leaders were in addressing issues and changes, such as extensive dialogues on diversity," Dr. Rosenthal said.

Dr. Rosenthal also had the opportunity to tour ADA Headquarters. Some of the highlights for her were the new ADA operatory and video studio and experiments conducted in the Science Division.

"I wish every member could experience the things going on at the ADA and see what's being developed," she said. "Shadowing Dr. O'Loughlin really inspired me and gave me hope that I was on the right path, and I can accomplish great things."

And Dr. O'Loughlin's mentorship of Dr. Rosenthal didn't end after the fellow flew back to Boston. Dr. Rosenthal said Dr. O'Loughlin has already invited her to accompany the ADA executive director at an event in Washington, D.C., later this year and to meet in Boston when Dr. O'Loughlin, of Medford, Massachusetts, comes to visit.

"I want (Dr. Rosenthal) to know she has me in her corner and can lean on me," Dr. O'Loughlin said.

But along with encouraging more seasoned dentists to reach out to new dentists, Dr. Rosenthal said mentorship is a two-way street.

"First of all, it's important for younger dentists to not be afraid to reach out and not be intimidated," she said. "Realize there are so many experienced dentists who want to help. However, they won't know you need the mentorship and help until you reach out to them."