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Graduating student-dentist bridges barriers to provide care to underserved communities

Jun 12, 2019

Juan Ramirez

When Juan Ramirez '19 was choosing a dental school to complete his degree, he carefully considered all of his options.

"I interviewed at a lot of schools, but University of the Pacific was a game-changer," recalled Juan Ramirez. "We're really like family here.

A third-year student in the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry's doctor of dental surgery program, Ramirez will graduate in June, thanks to the dental school's accelerated schedule.

He credited a supportive faculty as one of the factors for his enthusiasm for Pacific and recalled how Dr. Janet Anders, assistant professor of clinical oral health, encouraged him to pursue his idea to break language barriers on campus.

"We have a high Hispanic student population at the school, and a lot of our patients speak Spanish," said Ramirez. "I decided to start a club, because I thought it would be an important skill that my classmates could benefit from."

Ramirez, a native Spanish speaker from Chiapa, Colima, Mexico, created the El Dentista Club. Members meet at lunchtime to practice their conversational Spanish.

"I think the El Dentista Club has been pretty successful so far," Ramirez said. "Students are finding it really helpful in treating their Spanish-speaking patients in the clinic."

The club is also open to faculty. Together with students, they are learning medical terminology and other key words and phrases applicable to practicing dentistry. Ramirez hopes the club will help students develop their speaking skills strongly enough to be able to volunteer for outreach events with Spanish-speaking patients.

"I love all the outreach we do at Pacific, helping people who really need it, which means a lot to me," Ramirez said. Student-dentists provide oral health screenings and other services at clinics serving a variety of underserved populations who might not have regular dental services available to them for whatever reason. Student pharmacists at Pacific's Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and law students at McGeorge School of Law also organize clinics to help the underserved.

In addition to El Dentista, Ramirez started Dugoni's first-ever Hispanic Student Dental Association. There, students focus on providing oral health screenings, preventative care and education to the Hispanic community.

"It's more than just helping the underserved population," said Ramirez. "I want to be a motivation for Hispanics and other minorities to see what I'm doing and encourage and guide them to go into the oral health field."

Ramirez's passion for helping others doesn't stop there. He is a member of the Student National Dental Association, which promotes and supports the academic and social environment of minority students in dentistry, as well as a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which works to improve diversity and cultural awareness at the Dugoni School.

For all of his efforts to bring awareness and support for diversity at the Dugoni School, Ramirez was selected as a winner of Pacific's Champion of Diversity and Inclusion Award, which recognizes a student, staff or faculty member who has gone above and beyond to support diversity and inclusion work on Pacific's campuses in Stockton, San Francisco and Sacramento.

"Being a role model to first-generation college students, to students of color, is important to me," said Ramirez. "I want people who are younger than me to say 'If he can do it, then I can.'"

Ramirez will have an opportunity to influence youth on a consistent basis. Upon graduation, he plans to work in an underserved community with a large Hispanic population.

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