TMD Issue 1- Dr. Donielle Williams "Pediatric Dentist"
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Dr. Donielle Williams (I call her Dr. Doni!) was amongst the closest friends I had the privilege of making during dental school at UAB. She went to Xavier University for Undergrad and University of Alabama at Birmingham for dental school. After that she completed her Pediatric Residency at University of California - Los Angeles while simultaneously acquiring her Masters in Public Health. Can you say over achiever?😂 She constantly inspires everyone around her to be their best and I'm super excited to share her story as a minority in dentistry.
1. Where are you in your dental career?
I recently completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at UCLA. While in residency, I also completed a Masters of Public Health Degree at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Now, I am entering private practice and getting ready to put my knowledge and skills obtained in residency into practice on the little peaches of Georgia. Public health and pediatric dentistry go hand-in-hand, and I am excited to launch the public health portion of my career through working with my local and state public health departments.
2. Why did you choose your dental school? Did anything or anyone stand out to you when you were interviewing?
I chose to attend UAB for dental school because of the robust clinical curriculum. The clinical requirements at UAB are hefty (I mean reallllllly hefty… like twice of what a lot of other schools require), but they truly prepare you for the real world. At the time I was applying, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to specialize or go straight into practice, so it was important to me that I was clinically competent upon graduating dental school in the event that I became a general dentist.
I also liked the small class size at UAB. With only 60 students (then eventually 11 additional international students), I felt like my attendings and faculty members truly knew me and had a vested interest in my success as a student. I wasn’t just a number—I was Student Doctor Williams and I had a village of people that were going to make sure I made it out of the program successfully.
3. What was the minority experience like at your dental school?
There were 3 other black students in my class. There were about 3-4 other underrepresented minorities, including Latinxs.
BLACK FACULTY! UAB has more black faculty than any other PWI that I am aware of. With one of the Deans being black, as well black attendings in the departments of oral surgery, pediatrics, endodontics, community dentistry, and more—minorities are well supported at UAB. Having that representation in multiple different areas of the school was huge to me. I always felt as if I had an ally ✊🏽. Walking down the halls and seeing them, I was encouraged to keep pressing because there was a person right there that had not only done it, but they also had come back to academia to pay it forward.
UAB really made an effort to support minority students. Many of us received scholarship funding each year and we also received travel stipends in order to attend conferences to represent UAB. As a dental student, I attended the SNDA National Convention with support from UAB as well as the ADEA Diversity and Inclusion in Dentistry Conference. UAB undoubtedly took interest in the professional and personal development of its students of color.
4. How have your past experiences equipped you for dentistry?
Now that I have graduated, I see tons of patients that look like me! It is an indescribable feeling to look into the eyes of a young black patient and tell them that they too, can become a dentist.
Y'all know black don’t crack…. So I always get parents asking me if I am “old enough” to be doing this or telling me “You look like a child yourself”. But serving families of color and being able to address the patient’s dental needs while also addressing social factors that are “understood and don’t need to be explained” are what this is all about. If providers of color don’t serve populations of color, then who will?!
I will never forget, I had a patient’s dad who told me that when I walked into the room to see his daughter, he breathed a sigh of relief. He explained that his daughter (who was medically complex, wheel-chair bound, and nonverbal) has had several medical providers throughout her lifetime. He continued, “Though all of her providers typically treat her with kindness and love, when I saw you, a black woman, coming to treat my black daughter, I KNEW she would be getting good treatment. I hoped that you would see a little of yourself in her, despite her condition, and after our interactions, it was clear that you did.” That story is my WHY! I love love love to make a difference in the lives of children—especially children of color. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Being able to serve families with skill, tenderness, and most importantly, cultural competence is a gift. As minorities, I feel that we have a huge responsibility to give back to our communities.
“To whom much is given, much is required.” Being able to serve families with skill, tenderness, and most importantly, cultural competence is a gift. As minorities, I feel that we have a huge responsibility to give back to our communities.
5. What are your future goals?
My future goals include opening my own pediatric practice. Additionally I would like to work in policy in some capacity—perhaps working as the state dental director and determining ways to increase access to care for our most vulnerable pediatric populations.
6. What are your views on natural hair at the workplace? Do you ever feel like there was a time where you did things to “blend in”?
ROCK THE HAIR, SIS. Natural hair is just that—our God-given tresses that grow out of our heads. It is past time that we stop feeling the need to make others feel comfortable and we wear the hair that we were blessed with. When interviewing for residency, I went back and forth trying to decide if I wanted to wear my natural hair to my interviews. For the first interview, I decided on a slicked back bun. I walked into the interview room and saw 3 other girls…. all with slicked back buns. I don’t know about yall, but I am trying to stand out (in a good way) when I interview for a position. So from that moment forward, I decided to rock my natural hair in a wash-n-go to the rest of my interviews! I went for volume and sass. I was so confident with my curls and felt like I began to stand out. Instead of being 1 of 10 “black girls with the bun”, now I was “the black girl with the fun hair”. 😝
It is past time that we stop feeling the need to make others feel comfortable and we wear the hair that we were blessed with.
7. What advice would you give to minorities who feel alone in dental school?
To any minority who feels alone in dental school: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! You EARNED your spot in dental school, and you would not be there if you didn’t have what it takes to succeed.
Though we make up less than 5% of the nation’s dentists, there are a lot of minority dentists who have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. Do not hesitate to reach out! Seek mentorship from someone who has been in your shoes. Much of my success in my career can be attributed to my fabulous mentors who have helped me along the way. Use your resources. Dental school is a MARATHON—not a sprint. But with the right support system, the marathon can continue. 💙
Catch Dr. Donielle via