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ADA Distinguished Service Award: Dr. Jeanne Sinkford

September 30, 2015

By David Burger

Dr. Sinkford
Washington — When Dr. Jeanne Sinkford was a child, she didn't know any women dentists, but knew she wanted a dental career.

"I thought I wanted to be a dental hygienist," Dr. Sinkford said. "But my dentist told me I really wanted to be a dentist."

Eventually, Dr. Sinkford became much more than she ever imagined, becoming the first female dean of a dental school, a post she held for 16 years at the Howard University College of Dentistry.

For that distinction, as well as for her life-long commitment to ensuring that women and minorities are able to succeed, the ADA Board of Trustees will award Dr. Sinkford the ADA Distinguished Service Award at ADA 2015 — America's Dental Meeting Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C.

"Dr. Jeanne Sinkford is a true leader in dentistry and I'm inspired by her," said ADA President Dr. Maxine Feinberg. "Throughout her career, and especially as the first female dean of the College of Dentistry at Howard University, Dr. Sinkford has enriched our profession by creating pathways for under-represented minorities and women to enter the dental field. She is a role model to so many dental professionals and to this day continues to lead us forward. The Distinguished Service Award is the ADA's highest honor, and I'm pleased to present it to Dr. Sinkford."

For the first time, the ADA Distinguished Service Award will go to two people. Her fellow honoree is Dr. Richard V. Tucker.

Dr. Sinkford won't have far to go to accept her award. Except when she and her husband studied for advanced degrees in Chicago, she has been a life-long resident of the District and neighboring Silver Spring, Maryland.

After 16 years as dean at Howard and 17 years as the associate director and director of the Center of Equity and Diversity of the American Dental Education Association, she is now senior-scholar-in-residence at ADEA.

Dr. Sinkford has earned respect from colleagues all over the world, and many of them call her a mentor. She is currently professor and dean emeritus at Howard and a member of the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

"Jeanne is a genuine coalition builder who has fashioned and focused her career on leveraging human talent and associated resources to strengthen the capacity of the oral health workforce to meet the needs of our diverse population," said Lois Cohen, Ph.D., consultant at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Maryland. "Her many career accomplishments epitomize demonstrated leadership, inclusiveness and diversity, engagement of multiple constituencies, creativity, reproducibility and breadth of impact. These are all characteristic of a greater vision for the profession, innovative practical solutions and achievements that clearly demonstrate women and minorities have strong leadership positions in today's oral health workforce. As the pioneer for outreach to minority communities and the world of women at ADEA, she crafted and led these programs where none existed before."

Dr. Paul Gates, chairman of the Bronx Lebanon Department of Dentistry in New York City, echoed Dr. Cohen's praise. "Our careers became indirectly entwined when Dr. Sinkford retired after 16 years as the dean of the Howard University School of Dentistry and I was offered the opportunity to succeed her," he said. "After a very close review of that situation, I was better able to appreciate the outstanding contributions of this giant to dental education in particular and minority dentistry in addition."

Dr. Sinkford is a 1953 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Howard University with a degree in psychology and chemistry. She then graduated first in her class at Howard's College of Dentistry, and joined the Howard faculty in the Division of Prosthodontics upon her 1958 graduation. Two years later, she moved to Chicago and attended Northwestern to study for a doctorate in physiology while undergoing post-graduate training in prosthodontics.

Dr. Sinkford returned to Howard in 1964, when she became the chairwoman of the Division of Prosthodontics. She became associate dean in 1967 and a full professor in 1968. During a 1974-1975 sabbatical, she served at Children's Hospital National Medical Center in which she completed a pediatric dental residency.

Dr. Sinkford then returned to Howard as dean of the dental school.

As ADEA senior-scholar-in-residence, Dr. Sinkford focuses on the opportunities she has created and expanded for diversity in dental education through innovative pipeline programs, leadership and faculty development. The main obstacles she encounters in recruiting women and minorities to the dental profession concern the costs of dental school and the lack of earlier exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, she said.

Dr. Ernie Lacy, professor of restorative sciences and executive director of the Office of Student Development and Multicultural Affairs at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, said Dr. Sinkford has been an inspiration for two decades. "The thing that stands out for me is her passion for what she is doing," Dr. Lacy said. "She truly believes it is the right thing to do in terms of minority recruitment."

Dr. Lacy continued: "She is a born leader. She doesn't just talk the talk, but walks the walk. She gets things done."

Dr. Sinkford does not plan on retiring. "I have a lot of writing I want to do," she said.