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The Many Faces of UTHealth: Donors make dentistry student’s dreams a reality

The Many Faces of UTHealth: Donors make dentistry student’s dreams a reality

While many children leave the dentist’s office with bright smiles and healthy teeth, Courtney Cunningham came away with something more. She came away with a dream of caring for communities through dentistry. And now, donor generosity is making her dream — and the dreams of many others — a reality.

You have the chance to support students like her through The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Faculty & Staff Campaign.

Cunningham, of Fritch, Texas, anticipates graduating in 2018 from the Doctor of Dental Surgery program at UTHealth School of Dentistry. She received The Corina Diaz and Walter Bajsel Endowed Scholarship to help offset her financial burden and launch her toward her goal of “one day making dental care more accessible to those who need it most.”

What inspired you to become a dentist?

I was inspired by my childhood dentist, Dr. Hugh Goldston, of Borger, Texas. Witnessing his excellent bedside manner and meaningful patient relationships is what first piqued my interest in the profession. Dr. Goldston was always invested in my life, watching me grow from a small child to a young adult. He taught me that dentistry allows you the unique ability to establish lifelong partnerships with your patients, and now developing such partnerships in my own health care career is one of my major goals.

Why did you choose UTHealth?

I chose UTHealth primarily for the family atmosphere that I experienced during my first school tour and later interview. Additionally, the school facilities in Houston surpass any I have ever seen. I remember walking through each classroom, lab and operatory, hoping so badly that I would get the chance to one day attend as a student. Each time I see a new tour or interview group walking through the halls, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be part of this program.

How has receiving a scholarship impacted you and your future career?

Receiving a scholarship from UTHealth has aided me in achieving my education so that I may transfer this generosity to others in the form of dental care. It helped to relieve a burden of additional student debt. It was awarded just before a payment for school was due, and words cannot express the gratitude I felt at that moment. 

What do you most appreciate about being a UTHealth School of Dentistry student?

I appreciate the help and guidance from advisers, instructors and local dentists. Everyone genuinely wants to see you succeed, and during the stresses of school, it's nice to be reminded of that. 

What has been your most memorable moment at UTHealth? 

My most memorable moment so far has to be my trip to the National Leadership Conference of the American Student Dental Association in Chicago. There, we discussed current issues facing dental students — the most memorable being the issue of current licensing examinations. We discussed certain unethical factors that ensue from a live patient exam, as well as the judgment of a student’s education based solely on a handful of procedures completed within a small time frame. It truly was a great experience meeting students from across the country to discuss the issues that unite us. 

How do you plan to use your degree in the future?

I grew up in a small, rural community, and I would like to help similar populations once I have graduated. The need in these communities is great and often overlooked. Because there are so many underserved communities within a reasonable radius from one another, I have considered traveling to different sites to better reach those in need. Additionally, I would like to improve oral health care education in the surrounding schools to aid in the prevention of disease. This type of education is extremely limited in small communities, and I believe this simple measure could truly make a difference!

Is there anything else you would like to share with our faculty and staff across the UTHealth campus?

I’d like to say an additional, “Thank you,” for all that you do. I chose this school primarily by the interactions of the faculty and staff, and I would do it again if given the choice! 

Gifts from loyal donors help students graduate each year and help UTHealth recruit and retain the world-class faculty who train them.

Our goal for this year’s UTHealth Faculty & Staff Campaign is increased participation. Your gift — whether $1 or $1,000 — makes a world of difference!

To learn more about philanthropy, please visit the faculty and staff campaign website or contact Virginia Craig, director of Annual Giving, at virginia.craig@uth.tmc.edu

To share your story, email news@uth.tmc.edu and we may use your story on social media. Or share your story on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #manyfacesofuthealth.

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