In this inaugural position, Dr. Smith will serve as a key member of a team with oversight for all diversity, equity and inclusion activities that supports students, faculty and staff in the dental school and VCU Dental Care, said Dr. David C. Sarrett, VCU dental school dean, in his blog.
“Dr. Smith will assist in shaping institutional leadership surrounding diversity, cultural sensitivity and health inequities to address changes needed to the curriculum in support of cultural competency,” Dr. Sarrett said.
In addition, Dr. Smith will collaborate with stakeholders responsible for diversity, inclusion and health equity across both campuses of Virginia Commonwealth University, and partner with other university units to create metrics and monitoring systems, including accountability measures, for diversity, equity and inclusion in the dental school.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are principles which I have valued my entire life,” Dr. Smith said. “They are principles I have attempted to embody within every facet of work I have taken on.”
As both a clinician and ethicist, Dr. Smith said, he approaches diversity, equity and inclusion from a unique perspective — as someone who sees the evolving principles and commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, access and justice — as inextricably linked to dentistry’s position as a profession and the ethical obligations inherent within that status.
“Particularly as our country continues to deal with COVID-19, which has shined an additional light on the vastness of health disparities and inequities in our nation, and ever evolving systemic issues resulting from our nation's historic and continued institutionalized racism, especially in our nation's health care institutions and health systems, is needed now more than ever before,” Dr. Smith said.
Dr. Smith earned is dental degree from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and received his master of divinity, with a concentration in theology and ethics, from Duke Divinity School. He began his teaching career in the Department of General Practice at VCU dental school in September 2015 after nearly a decade in both public health dentistry and private practice in North Carolina.
Dr. Smith will continue to serve as director of ethics curriculum and to teach in the Department of General Practice, according to Dr. Sarrett in his blog.
“I look forward to working directly with Dr. Smith and supporting this important work, which is critical to the success of our school,” Dr. Sarrett said. “A vital first step is the creation of a school [diversity, equity and inclusion] statement and website.”
Dr. Smith, with contributions from others, helped draft an initial statement and will gather broader comments as the final statement is prepare. In addition, the dental school is planning its inaugural Inclusive Excellence Week to celebrate its diversity and commitment to inclusive excellence during Global Diversity Month in October.
Within dental education and dentistry specifically — how students, staff and faculty feel during their training, their clinical learning - connected even to organizational culture and climate — diversity, equity and inclusion touches all of this, he added.
“Does a student feel welcomed or threatened or even isolated? There is much research that shows those feelings — no matter how minimal — can have a profound effect on their progress through a professional education program,” Dr. Smith said. “Moreover — the need for cultural competency trainings and expertise, the connection to enhanced patient outcomes, better patient understanding, oral health literacy — and even, yes, representation in terms of a diverse workforce.”
As a member of the IDL 2018-19 class, Dr. Smith was among 20 dentists who honed their leadership abilities through faculty seminars and experience designing and leading projects for their dental associations or other community organizations. The IDL students worked leading educators from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Since 2003, more than 200 dentists have been enrolled in the program. Institute alumni have since served as volunteer leaders at the local, state and national levels of the ADA, and other dental associations and service organizations.