by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Health. Discussion »
ANN ARBOR - Dr. Nancy Refiel (Rosebud Sioux) remembers receiving a notice in the mail about the Society of American Indian Dentists, but says back then you “went to work to work” and the notice really did not mean a lot to her.
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“When you work in Indian Country, you just went to work to work,”
said Refiel. She was a dentist working for Indian Health Services. “I did not see the importance of this organization.”
She finally paid attention, took notice and decided to attend the meeting. Refiel is glad she did.
Refiel, who now teaches community programs at UCLA School of Dentistry and in the American Indian Studies program at UCLA, presented the history of the Society of American Indian Dentists at their annual conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan on this past Saturday morning.
The conference attendees included American Indian dentists, American Indian students and others.
Refiel recounted the formation of the Society of American Indian Dentists at the University of Colorado through the leadership of Dr. George Blue Spruce (Pueblo), who is the first American Indian to become a dentist.
“George Blue Spruce was the lightening rod of this organization,”
said Dr. Dave L. Smith (Oneida), who is the current president of the Society of American Indian Dentists. “He helped to secure a federal grant to fund the organization.”
Currently there are fewer than 150 American Indian dentists in the United States, which equates to one for every 32,000 American Indians. The organization works to increase the number by attempting to identify American Indians while they are young to get them interested in dentistry.
“Within in the field of dentistry, there is a lot of science and math, ideally we have to reach down to high school to get Indian students interested in becoming a dentists,” commented Dr. Smith.
“I made the decision to become a dentist because you can see immediate results in dentistry versus being a doctor where you write a prescription and wait to see,” said Kyle Downum (Peoria), a Creighton University School of Dentistry dental student, who attended the conference.
Refiel discussed how the advent of the Internet has increased the sense of family among American Indian dentists. “We are so scattered around the country and such few numbers, the Internet allows us to stay connected,” said Refiel.
“If you don’t have dental professionals in your family, the people in this group become your professional family,” said, Dr. Ruth Bol (Comanche), who serves as vice president of the organization.
Dr. Smith said it is important to collaborate with other organizations to ensure access to health care for American Indians. He believes there should be a coalition to reach underserved populations.
In attendance at the conference were Dr. Raymond Gist, president of the American Dental Association; Dr. Roy Iron, National Dental Association; and Margo Melchor, who is president of the Hispanic Dental Association.
Dr. Kenneth May - U of M
Dr. Kenneth May, director of Office of Multicultural Affairs and Recruitment Initiatives at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry was presented with a blanket during the entertainment on Saturday evening, which was provided by the American Indian drum group, Spirit of the Three Fires from West Michigan.
“I was so proud that two of our former students presented yesterday (Friday),” said Dr. May speaking about the Continuing Education course taught at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.
posted May 23, 2011 1:57 pm et
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