As a little girl, Rayna Strong loved going to the dentist. “It was always a positive experience,” she remembers. “I felt good about myself when I went there. I decided early that I would be a dentist and help make other people feel good about themselves.”
It was not until she attended Wheaton College in Illinois, however, that she knew what kind of dentist she wanted to be. Wheaton, a Christian liberal arts school, stressed critical, ethical, and theological analysis of just about every subject, and as a pre-dental major, Rayna understood that this way of looking at the world would figure heavily into her future practice of dentistry. In particular, she wanted to serve underserved populations, bringing dental care to those who need it most. Penn Dental, with its commitment to community dentistry, seemed like a perfect fit.
In her freshman year at Penn Dental, Rayna learned about a dual-degree option in Bioethics, offered in conjunction with the Perelman School of Medicine, that required just five additional courses and would support and nurture her holistic view of dentistry. Focusing on the ethical examination of topics like health care rationing and cultural competency, “it allowed me to continue to think critically, and to analyze things on moral and ethical grounds, while pursuing the clinical study of dentistry,” she says.
Rayna’s final project for her Master’s in Bioethics is a paper entitled “Reprioritizing Social Justice in Dentistry and Dental Education.” In her paper, she examines the definition of professionalism as it is taught in dental schools across the country.
“What does it mean to be a professional?” she asks. “As professionals in health care, do we all have an obligation to reduce disparities and serve the underserved? We know that everyone needs dental care. What keeps us from acting on that knowledge more often? I hope that my paper will encourage dentists, and dental schools, to look critically at themselves, and to look beyond the status quo.”
Rayna, who received a scholarship for dental school from the National Health Services Corporation, will soon have a chance to put her words into action. To repay her scholarship, she will work for the next four years in an underserved area where the need is great, perhaps in her home state of Oregon. Wherever she serves, she will continue to promote the concepts that have shaped her education and her outlook: social justice, ethical thinking, and excellence.
““I hope that my paper will encourage dentists, and dental schools, to look critically at themselves, and to look beyond the status quo.””Rayna Strong