Ann Arbor, MI — January 20, 2016 — Reflecting on a career of more than 50 years in oral health care and a life-long commitment of helping women and minorities succeed, Dr. Jeanne Sinkford spoke about the important role leaders in interprofessional education would have promoting health equity in the future during the 26th Annual Health Sciences MLK Lecture.
“If Dr. King were alive today, he would be advocating the elimination of disparities in health care and applaud the University of Michigan for its efforts to promote diversity” she said in remarks at the symposium held at U-M Hospital and hosted by the School of Dentistry.
Sinkford enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., at age 16 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology and chemistry. She graduated first in her class at Howard’s College of Dentistry in 1958 and joined the Division of Prosthodontics at Howard.
Two years later, she moved with her husband to Chicago and earned a master’s degree in 1962 and a PhD in 1964 from Northwestern University. She returned to Howard University that year and became the first woman to lead a dental school as dean of the College of Dentistry from 1975 to 1991. From 1992 to 2011, Sinkford served as director of the Center of Equity and Diversity with the American Dental Education Association.
She has received numerous awards for her achievements, including the American Dental Association’s Distinguished Service Award last year and the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award from the Friends of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research last spring.
Be Vigilant, Move Forward
Drawing on her experiences as a dental educator, administrator and clinician, Sinkford said academic policies that promote diversity in health care education “are an amazing accomplishment” that help the public realize that disparities in health care exist and try to do something about them. Because of those disparities, she said, the nation’s 66 dental schools are, and will continue to be, “safety nets for the needy.”
Sinkford said an “emerging leadership pipeline,” that includes the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Program and others like it, are helping prepare tomorrow’s leaders in the health care professions “who will be able to provide more effective patient care in patient-centered communities.”
Commenting on the increasing number of women studying for degrees in health care professions, Sinkford said that trend is likely to continue. “It’s certainly very different for women today than when I was in dental school,” she said.
Students will also play a more important role providing health care through community outreach programs, she added. Their education in an academic environment, including clinical experiences, along with their ability to use technology enables today’s students to let others know on a regular basis about the importance of providing care to those in need.
Sinkford said that “constant vigilance is still needed” to realize King’s dream of equality. “Let us keep moving together in peace and tranquility,” she said. “I’m optimistic. The glass today is more than half full.”