For the first time since the COVID pandemic, the Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS) program will be held at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Saturday, February 18.
The DDS program aims to expose children aged 2 to 5 and teens aged 14 to 18, primarily from historically marginalized populations and rural or low-income communities in the Mid-South, to a variety of career options in the health care field in a transparent, fun, and engaging format. The 2023 cohort, consisting of 49 teenagers and 30 toddlers, will attend monthly sessions on the UTHSC campus through June, when white coats and awards will be presented to the active participants.
The students at Saturday’s session will learn from several speakers, including Dr. Quodarrius Toney, a dentist who was in the inaugural DDS cohort in 2012. The teens will also hear a panel discussion with UTHSC College of Dentistry alumni Dr. Brooke Dishmon and Dr. Derrick Payne about the trajectories of their careers and their lives as practicing dentists. The younger group will hear from pediatric dentist and UTHSC graduate Dr. Rodric Miller.
Christina Rosenthal, DDS, MPH, a 2005 graduate of the UTHSC College of Dentistry, founded the program in 2011, with support from UTHSC, to address the need for more minority health care providers nationwide.
“Representation is very, very important,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “It’s important that we have providers who look like the patients they serve in those health care spaces. Diversity makes us all better, and it makes us better Americans.”
Dr. Rosenthal is a Memphis native, growing up in the Smokey City neighborhood in North Memphis. Coming from a disadvantaged background has motivated her to work toward eliminating the barriers underrepresented students face when considering a career in health care.
“Growing up in North Memphis, I didn’t have a doctor mentor that I could reach out to and learn from to know that becoming a dentist was even possible for me,” she said. “This program is not just about the hands-on activities related to the professions, it’s also meant to give the students hope and to put a face to that hope. They can see people from similar backgrounds as them who became doctors, so they know they can become a doctor, too.”
DDS has been successful in that goal. Dr. Rosenthal speaks about several students who went on to have careers in the health care field, including Dr. Toney, Dr. Jasmine Jefferson, who recently graduated from the UTHSC College of Medicine, and Dr. Rosenthal’s son, who was in the program’s first cohort and is now studying veterinarian medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Even though some DDS students do not end up in a health care profession, Dr. Rosenthal said the program has many benefits.
“Becoming a doctor is not our only metric for success. One program benefit, for example, is standardized test preparation. We have had students get 27s, 29s, 32s on the ACT and get full-ride scholarships to college,” she said.
While COVID had an impact on the program in the last few years, DDS was able to continue its mission by holding virtual programming. That brought new challenges to the organizers of the program, but it also had its benefits. For example, the students were able to hear from more doctors from all around the world without anyone having to leave their homes. Despite the perks of the virtual programming, Dr. Rosenthal said the in-person connections make the program better.
“There’s just no replacement for that face-to-face, in-person engagement you can have when you’re physically in front of one another,” she said. “It helps to build social connection, which I think is lacking among a lot of teens and youth because of technological devices and social media, so I’m really excited to see how they interact with one another and how friendships are built in the program.”
As the 2023 program gets underway, Dr. Rosenthal’s hopes for the future are growing. Not only is she planning to continue the program, but she also dreams of expanding it in multiple ways. Developing programming for children between the ages of 6 and 13, providing resources and aid to the program’s graduates as they continue their education, and moving into other markets across the nation are just some of the ways Dr. Rosenthal hopes DDS will grow in the coming years.
Parents who want to get their child involved with Determined to be a Doctor Someday in the future can visit the DDS website or social media pages, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Application information for the 2024 DDS cohort will be available in the fall.