San Juan College
Patricia (Navajo) is a student that gives her community a reason to smile—literally. As a dental hygiene major, Patricia plans to work on her reservation to help reduce high rates of oral decay and disease.
The Native population has the highest diabetes rates in the country of any group, and those high rates correlate to both oral health and the highest incidence of early childhood cavities. Patricia would like to work with programs on her reservation to prevent early childhood tooth decay, including providing nutrition counseling and oral health instruction. She volunteers in her community by providing free dental care to children and National Guard troops. She also works to encourage young people, including her two daughters, to go into the oral health field, as there are even fewer dentists and dental hygienists than doctors in Native communities.
Patricia is an honors student in her fourth year of study, thanks to a United Health Foundation Tribal Scholars program scholarship awarded by the American Indian College Fund. Her many honors include a Presidential Honors award in 2013, the Merrion Distinguished Honor Award for Spring 2014, the Dental Program Advisory Council Award, and the Vice President’s Award Spring 2014. Patricia notes that she was also invited to join the National Honors Society in 2013, but did not have the money to pay for the membership.
She says that her honors helped her to realize that she can succeed and “never before have I been this proud of myself for any single accomplishment.” Patricia cited the hard work and sacrifices both she and her entire family have made along the way that were instrumental to her ability to excel in her studies.
Thanks to her scholarship, Patricia says she can pay for her tuition and books this fall, along with the fees for her board exams. Clinical board exams are required for licensure prior to her graduation in the spring of 2015, and Patricia says they are costly because students must choose a patient and pay for their out-of-pocket expenses, including travel costs and time away from work.
After working in her field, Patricia said she would like to continue to work towards earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and to eventually teach dental hygiene.
Patricia says, “I would have not have come this far without the help of the American Indian College Fund and the United Health Foundation Tribal Scholars Program scholarship and for that I thank you.”