While providing oral health screenings to children in an underserved Brooklyn neighborhood during her senior-year rotation aboard the College of Dentistry's Smiling Faces, Going Places mobile dental van, Dr. Nicole Holland, Class of 2010, encountered a 9-year-old boy who only brushed his teeth during weekend visits to his grandmother's house. When another dental student on the van learned about the boy's oral health habits and pressed him to explain why he didn't brush daily, the child became embarrassed and non-communicative. It turned out that it was only when he visited his grandmother that he became aware of the importance of brushing his teeth.
"The interaction between my fellow students and this child illustrates how challenging it can be to communicate effectively with patients from underserved communities," Dr. Holland says. "It's a challenge I intend to address as I pursue a career in public health dentistry."
To that end, Dr. Holland will enroll in fall 2010 in a Master of Science in Health Communication program jointly sponsored by the Tufts University School of Medicine and Emerson College in Boston, which provides students with a foundation in the science, theory, and practice of effective health communication and prepares them to achieve a broad range of public health goals, from information dissemination, to knowledge of the social and environmental determinants of oral health, to behavior change and advocacy.
"Once I complete the MPH program, I plan to divide my time between practicing dentistry and advocating for better communication between providers and patients and more effective oral health education for the underserved," says Dr. Holland.
Throughout her four years at the NYU College of Dentistry, Dr. Holland was an active member of the student-led Oral Cancer Walk Committee, which has organized five annual walks through Harlem to raise awareness of oral cancer. Moreover, during her senior year at NYUCD, Dr. Holland participated in an outreach to Grenada (see related story), and in an Oral Medicine Honors program that provided both valuable clinical training and an opportunity to educate patients about the connection between tobacco use and oral cancer and the importance of quitting smoking.
Dr. Ross Kerr, Clinical Associate Professor of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology & Medicine, who mentored Dr. Holland as a member of the Oral Cancer Walk Committee and who teaches in the Oral Medicine Honors Program, says, "Nicole's professional demeanor, chairside manner, professionalism, and ethics are all exemplary, and she gets on exceedingly well with patients and staff.
"I am delighted that she has decided to expand her horizons by enrolling in the Tufts University/Emerson College MPH program. The program looks very exciting, and, given her interest in oral cancer, I am hopeful that she will be able to use her experiences at NYUCD to help promote greater awareness of this disease. We need more dentists embarking on careers in health communication and I feel that Nicole has the attributes to excel in this field."
"Perhaps the most valuable lesson I've learned," Dr. Holland says, "is that through effective communication, every healthcare practitioner has the power to help his or her patients become more accountable for their health."