Helping to create the leaders of tomorrow by building a pipeline from elementary school to the dental practice.
Aidee Herman MSc 84 PERIO 86 DMD 90 knows what it is like to feel a little lost.
In 1981, when she arrived in Boston from Venezuela to begin the oral biology program at the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM), she didn’t speak English. The then-chair of the program allowed her to delay her admission by a few months so she could take a crash course in the language; once she began the program, the chair offered additional support to ensure she would be successful.
“The support I got from BU with my English from the beginning … [that’s] why I call it my BU family,” said Herman, who went on to complete three degrees at GSDM: a MSc in oral biology, a CAGS in periodontology, and a DMD through the Doctor of Dental Medicine Advanced Standing program.
“I know how difficult it is when you feel lost,” Herman said. “Nobody wants to be an immigrant, believe me. We leave our countries for different reasons: war, oppression, violence.”
Herman believes that she was successful, in part, because of the support and mentorship she received. Ever since, she has felt a sense of responsibility to give back to the Latino/Hispanic community and to other internationally trained dentists, by advocating for them and by giving them the same support and mentorship she herself received.
This dedication to helping others dates to early in her career when, in the early 1990s, leaders from the National Hispanic Dental Association (NHDA) – which was founded in 1990 – approached Herman about creating a state-level chapter. In 1993, the Massachusetts Hispanic Dental Association, with Herman as its first president, became the country’s first state NHDA chapter.
Herman didn’t stop there. She thought the best way to ensure that clinicians understood the importance of advocacy and community service was to hook them early, before they got too busy with their practice, their families, and the myriad of other responsibilities of life.
“Students are the leaders of tomorrow, and we have to start right now, not when they graduate,” Herman said. “It is when they are students that we have to show them that they can balance their time and do advocacy and be leaders in the community.”
So in 1994, Herman created the first student chapter of the National Hispanic Dental Association at Tufts University. She then went on to help form student chapters at both Harvard School of Dental Medicine and at GSDM. (Both the Tufts and the GSDM chapters are still active, according to the NHDA website. For more on GSDM’s chapter, click here.)
Having successfully established a pipeline from dental school to advocacy and community service, Herman decided she needed to do something about the pipeline of minority students into dental school. (As of 2000, the earliest year that data on dental school enrollment is available from the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), national enrollment was still overwhelmingly white, with Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino students representing about 4.7 and 5.4 percent of the entering class of dental students.)
This is a complex issue without an easy solution, but Herman believed one way to address it was to reach children early and provide them with information about oral health generally and information about the types of careers that are available in the oral healthcare field.
Herman partnered with the Boston Public Schools to create a program where, during National Children’s Dental Health Month, she visited different schools in the district, alongside her students and other members of the dental care team. The program helped students learn about good oral hygiene and expose them to possible careers in the dental field.
“Role models, that’s what we need,” Herman said. “I always said to [the students], ‘You see me being Latino, Spanish. I didn’t speak English at all when I came here. But you see me now, what I’ve accomplished in my life. You can say, “She did it. I can do it too.”’”
Even with all she has already done, Herman is still looking for new ways to give back. She founded a nonprofit, Hispanic International Mission, with the goal of reducing disparities in oral health and improving overall oral health, and she continues to search for internationally trained dentists who want to come study and work in the United States.
“I left my country because I was pursuing a dream, to get my education, improve in America,” Herman said. “I was fortunate [that] Boston University accepted me… because maybe I would have felt frustrated if I didn’t find the support that I found here at BU.”
This story is excerpted from the cover feature of the Spring 2020 Impressions — read more here.