100 Years of ADEA: Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford

Dr. Jeanne C Sinkford

Jeanne Craig Sinkford, D.D.S., Ph.D., D.Sc.

Dean Emeritus, Howard University College of Dentistry
ADEA Senior Scholar in Residence Emerita

Dr. Jeanne Sinkford has long been a trailblazer in the dental profession, becoming the first female dean of an American dental school when she was named Dean of Howard University College of Dentistry in 1975. As a tireless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Sinkford has also opened pathways for women and historically underrepresented and marginalized groups in the profession by various means, including through the establishment of the Center for Equity and Diversity in 1998 at ADEA (then the American Association of Dental Schools) and through the creation of the ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conference (IWLC).

In her Q&A, Dr. Sinkford gives more details about these efforts and reflects on their impact. Read Dr. Sinkford’s full essay, “100 Years of ADEA: Reflections on 27 Years of Service to AADS/ADEA,” in the October issue of Journal of Dental Education.

Q. You have long been an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within dental education, among both faculty and student bodies. You even established the ADEA Center for Equity and Diversity in 1998. How have the objectives of increasing DEI evolved over time within dental education?

In 1991, I was appointed Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the American Association of Dental Schools (AADS), now the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). My purpose was to help develop diversity programming and policies that help dental schools prepare for the changing U.S. population dynamics and to address the lack of underrepresented minority (URM) students in the dental applicant pipeline and enrollment. At the same time, we were seeing an increase in the number of women applicants and enrollees. The goal in 1991 was to increase URM applicants to levels similar to their representation in the U.S population. Prevailing dental practice data documented the fact that many minority dental graduates returned to their communities to practice. Additionally, ADEA Senior Survey data confirmed that URM graduates are more likely to practice in underserved communities than their white colleagues.

In 1991, when I arrived at AADS, no people of color were in the administration or members of the leadership staff. There were no grants for funding diversity programs. AADS had a policy statement for advancement of women and minorities, but there was no strategic plan or funding for implementation. At that time, AADS had serious competition from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) regarding URM student recruitment. AAMC’s Project 3000 by 2000 provided both competition and support for AADS’s early pipeline recruitment efforts.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded the Health Professions Partnership Initiative (HPPI) grants (1996–2005). These grants assisted health professions schools with forming linkages to colleges and K-12 school districts to improve curricula and educational programs that prepare and attract URMs to health careers. AADS’s partnership with AAMC facilitated our inclusion in the educational partnerships for the recruitment of dental students. HPPI grants provided AADS with seminal entry to major foundation support for URM student recruitment. The grants allowed student entry at all points of the pipeline, including early stages of education. Eleven dental schools received HPPI grants.

Q. You have also been a champion for increasing the presence of women in dental education and dentistry. Can you share examples of this?

The ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conference (IWLC) was my idea to add a global context to other faculty development opportunities for women (e.g., the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, ADEA/AAL Institute for Teaching and Learning and ADEA Enid A. Neidle Scholar in Residence program). The IWLCs were not intended to develop policy. They did provide for working group discussions and intellectual discourse related to recurring themes and targets that proved to be consistent with the World Health Organization (WHO), Global Oral Health Programme and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for disease prevention and oral health promotion.

The UNESCO Priority, Gender Equality Action Plan (2008-2013) influenced the IWLC’s relevance and importance to oral health and global health issues. Conference attendees learned from UNESCO’s gender-mainstreaming approach, which ensures that women and men benefit equally from program, policy and support. The gender-mainstreaming concept continues in WHO’s SDGs. Gender intersects with other drivers of inequities, discrimination, marginalization and social exclusion, which have complex effects on health and well-being.

Five recurring issues emerged from the ADEA IWLCs that have implications for the leadership of women in global health targets:

  1. The increased numbers of women in the dental professions create an imperative that women be considered vital intellectual capacity.
  2. The advancement of women in academic and research careers requires global attention and strategies.
  3. Leadership of women is important to the advancement of gender-related research, outcomes, knowledge and technology transfer.
  4. Mentoring and role-modeling are important aspects of leadership and career development.
  5. Building research capacities in developing countries and addressing the needs of women researchers emerged as challenges of fundamental and universal interest and magnitude.

ADEA IWLC meetings were held in France (1998), Sweden (2003), Canada (2005), Brazil (2010), Spain (2014) and Italy (2019). The seventh IWLC is to be held in the United States in New Orleans, LA, March 12–13, 2024.

Q. Dental education endured tremendous challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic but evolved rapidly to respond to those obstacles. What approaches to teaching, programming and even to faculty and student well-being do you think will endure at dental schools and allied dental programs post-pandemic and for years to come?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented global challenges to human health and survival. Dentistry had demonstrated capacity for resilience and survival in prior disasters, such as HIV/AIDS (1980s), Hurricane Katrina (Louisiana, 2005) and Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico, 2017). COVID-19, however, was a challenge to dental schools and to the world on a much larger scale.

Dental schools, within their service mission, have continued their “safety net” function to care for citizens who lack access to care in the private sector. In their outreach collaborations, dental schools provide more than 3 million patient visits per year, and screen more than 300,000 new patients. Our dental schools provide care through their own institutional resources and resources leveraged from others such as Federally Qualified Health Centers, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Delta Dental, Colgate and school-based health clinics (SBHCs) in rural areas. The SBHCs serve nearly 800,000 children each year. The Health Resources and Services Administration has identified over 7,350 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, and about 74 million adults and children live in these shortage areas with little or no access to dental care. Dental schools, within their service mission, have the opportunity to lead changes that will increase access to care in the future through support for new dental practice models, teledentistry and improved dental literacy in public messaging that focuses on public health concepts and prevention.

New opportunities exist in fundamental, clinical and translational research across health diseases and disciplines. Increased collaboration between dental schools and the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, provides avenues for traditional research and training, grant funding and community-based research. An effort to include more dental schools in program project/center grants will improve patient-centered research, diagnostics and outcomes data.

Also, new avenues of discovery are anticipated in corporate partnerships in areas such as salivary diagnostics, implantology, diagnostic imaging, artificial intelligence and cone-beam technology. Comparative effectiveness research and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute will be used in future health services research strategies to improve precision dentistry, dental therapies and health outcomes data for underrepresented and special needs patient groups.

Q. How do you hope ADEA continues to evolve as an organization for the next 100 years?

As “The Voice of Dental Education,” over the years ADEA has led the response from dental education to major national reports, such as Oral Health in America, A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General (2000), Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care (2003), and Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions (2004).

During my 27 years at AADS/ADEA, the organization has grown to become the innovation and change agent for the tripartite mission of U.S dental schools: education, research, and service. ADEA’s inclusive mission statement, “To lead and support the health professions community in preparing future-ready oral health professionals,” now serves as a vanguard for academic excellence and diversity.