'She's like Wonder Woman'
April 12, 2016
. — Expected to be the first in his family to attend college, Quodarrius Toney had no idea what he wanted to do after high school.
In his junior year, Mr. Toney decided to attend a symposium hosted by Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS), a program that provides mentorship and resources to Memphis-area high school students who wish to obtain doctorate degrees. Dr. Christina Rosenthal created the program as her project as a member of the 2010-11 class of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership.
"I was just trying to figure out what to do with my life," Mr. Toney said.
Four years later, the 20-year-old today is a junior at Howard University and studying sports medicine with a minor in chemistry. He is also currently applying to dental school.
"It all came from the DDS program," Mr. Toney said. "I knew I wanted to be like Dr. Rosenthal. I want to work for myself, help people and help the community."
A 2005 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, Dr. Rosenthal recently completed the Joseph L. Henry Oral Health Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University.
And equipped with new knowledge in public health policy and advocacy — gained from the yearlong fellowship — Dr. Rosenthal said she has plans to not only improve the DDS program and help inspire future health care professionals, such as Mr. Toney, but to also use her practice to further advocate for public health in her community.
"After graduation and coming home and returning to my practice, I had to ask myself, 'What's next?'" Dr. Rosenthal said.
The 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.
"Hands down, it was one of the greatest educational experiences of my life," Dr. Rosenthal said. "It was also one of the most challenging."
Dr. Rosenthal had to move to Massachusetts for a year, leaving behind her private practice and family, including her three children, ages 3, 9 and 15.
"Luckily I'm a highly organized person and gave myself a strict regimen," she said, adding that she had a weekly check-in with her office manager and used Skype to view and speak with her family every day.
"With my son's teachers, we were in constant communication through email so I could get updates on how they were doing," she said.
Meanwhile, she was receiving academic and leadership training, including in health policy and management, and applying her training through firsthand experience in private and public sectors. Dr. Rosenthal saw this as a continuation of her experience at the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership.
The Institute is designed to provide education and leadership skills to dentists who are members of racial, ethnic and/or gender groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles within the profession and their communities.
"The Institute taught me that there are so many ways in approaching and solving problems," she said. "And the courses, from marketing to running a nonprofit were instrumental to where I am now."
Today, she's using what she's learned from the Institute and Harvard fellowship to further her work in the community.
Dr. Rosenthal is producing and posting on her practice's website "cheesy but creative" videos to help educate her patients, along with the greater Memphis community, about the importance of oral health, including what's involved in dentistry and how to make their visits to the dentists more comfortable.
"My goal is to show people the benefit of dentistry in their lives," she said.
In addition, Ms. Rosenthal said to better improve the DDS program, she's developing a system to better track graduates. Although she's received communication from previous graduates about their studies in college, Ms. Rosenthal said she has not closely tracked where her graduates have gone on after high school and the program.
"One thing I learned when it comes to advocacy from any organization is that you need to have some proven data, or some sort of tracking system," she said. "I've started this process to see how many future DDS graduates go to a four-year institution and/or pursue a career in health care."
The program is just finishing its 2015-16 class of about 40 high school students, ages 14-18, and is scheduled to have a white coat ceremony in June.
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.
Dr. Rosenthal hopes future graduates of the program follow a path similar to Mr. Toney's, who was among the first group of students in the DDS program.
For him, Dr. Rosenthal has become his mentor, providing guidance throughout his college years.
"My parents didn't go to college so they're not as familiar with what I go through in my studies," Mr. Toney said. Dr. Rosenthal, he said, has been there to share her experience, especially when he's concerned about his GPA or a certain class.
"She's been a wonderful mentor," he said. "And the fact that she continues to work hard in furthering her education and gain more knowledge, she's like Wonder Woman."
The ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership is accepting applications through May 2 for its 2016-17 class. For more information on the Institute and how to apply, visit ADA.org/diversityinstitute