Wednesday is when members of the Van Wart family take a day off from work to concentrate on family and personal matters. It also provides an opportunity to sit and talk about what it is like for three generations of Van Warts to work side-by-side in the family business.
“A lot of families probably could not do it, but to be honest, we’re so busy all day,” laughs Christina Noblett-Thomas, DDS ’18. Christina is the latest member of her family to practice at Van Wart Family Dentistry in Houston after graduating from UTHealth School of Dentistry in May 2018. “It’s very rare that we get to sit down together and have lunch, but it’s nice having my mom there as a mentor.”
Christina’s mother, Sherry Van Wart-Noblett, DDS ’88, says her dad, William Van Wart, DDS ’57, encouraged his two daughters to be independent.
“My generation was the first generation that said women can have their own careers to support themselves,” says Sherry. “My older sister is a retired nurse. My other sister, Tammy (Van Wart-Hemann, DDS ’85), is a dentist with us. My other daughter, Nicole, graduated from Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth in 2018. My niece went to The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for nursing school and works in a plastic surgeon’s office. I can’t imagine women of my generation not doing what we’ve done: getting an education, stimulating your brain, growing, adding to society, and raising your own children to do so.”
Sherry also points out that the School of Dentistry went from having no female students when her father graduated to 30% of the enrollment when she graduated 31 years later. Today, women make up about 56% of the school’s students.
William retired from dental work in 1997, shifting his focus to the practice’s paperwork and payroll. He says he was happy and surprised that his daughters and granddaughter decided to become dentists. “It surprised me when Christina said she was going to be a dentist, just like her mother,” he remembers.
Christina first decided on dentistry when she applied for college. Her father is an engineer, and she excels in math, but an aptitude test showed she was also good at crafts, which was a good fit with dentistry. Also, her mother was a big influence. “Growing up and having my mom coming to my school events, I learned that dentistry is great career choice,” she says. “You get to be your own boss, and it allows for flexibility. Why would I not go into this?”
Christina says another advantage of working in a family practice is seeing patients who become like family. “Years ago, I was seeing five generations in one family, from the great-great grandmother to the great-great-grandchild,” Sherry says.
“My mom has a family she’s been seeing forever,” Christina adds. “They now live in London, but every time they come back to the United States, they make a dental appointment to come to see her.”
“We’re so blessed,” says Sherry. “Christina’s first patient was a fellow I grew up with. He saw my dad. He saw me. And he wanted to be the first patient to see all three generations.”
Sherry’s philanthropic goals are as straightforward as her career goals. She has consistently supported programs related to the schools of dentistry and nursing. “There are certain things I feel passionate about, and UTHealth is one of them,” explains Sherry. “It has given me my career and helped me provide for my family. And as I’ve gotten older, I am able to do more. I think it’s part of maturing, of who you are.”
The conversation turned into a chance for Christina to look into the future, to that time when her children start thinking about college and careers.
Would she encourage them to follow in the family tradition? “My mom never said I had to become a dentist,” says Christina. “We’ll probably do the same with our kids and make it more of a fun atmosphere instead of something they have to do.”
Regardless of the path they choose, the next generation of Van Warts will have the role models to help them make the best decision.