Sixteen years ago, when Dr. Elizabeth Bell Odom Carr received her dental hygienist degree from the University of Mississippi School of Health Related Professions, she fully expected to begin a long career in private practice.
No way - no way - did she consider she would end up as a teacher. But, she really should have seen it coming.
“It seems like everyone in my family is an educator,” said Carr, who grew up in Cleveland, Miss. “I come from a long line of teachers, and even though I chose a career in the medical field, it's pretty funny that I still turned out to be a teacher.”
Carr, an associate professor in dental hygiene at SHRP who also received a doctorate of health administration from the school, was recognized as the 2016 SHRP Alumnus of the Year during the school's Alumni Day and Continuing Education event held Friday, April 1 on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus.
The event serves not only as a reunion for all SHRP alumni, but also provides a wide variety of interdisciplinary continuing education sessions. This year's speakers included experts from UMMC and state government presenting topics on ethics in health care, data-driven decision making, and Medicaid fraud.
During the April 1 SHRP Alumni Day event, Dr. Shaz Edgerton, standing, assistant professor of radiological sciences, is recognized as one of the first graduates of SHRP's Doctor of Health Administration program.
In front of a record crowd of SHRP alumni, faculty, staff and friends, Dean Jessica Bailey cited Carr's dedication to being an ambassador for SHRP, and her commitment to ensuring that SHRP students are well prepared for a career upon graduation.
“One of our school's goals is to prepare our graduates to practice in the underserved parts of Mississippi,” Bailey said. “Elizabeth takes that charge very seriously, and has made it her mission to reach as many people as she can.”
Carr, who now lives in Canton, is deeply involved in community education. Her passion is teaching the next generation of Mississippi dental hygienists how to emphasize good oral health when treating patients.
“The health of the whole body hinges on what's going on in the mouth,” Carr said. “I teach students that we need to tailor our education to the needs of the individual with whom we're working.”
That includes “teaching folks how to make healthy food choices, making sure they know how to take appropriate care of their dental restorations, or helping them deal with problems like dry mouth, which can result from some medications.”
Carr, center, is recognized as Alumnus of the Year at the 2016 SHRP Alumni Day and Continuing Education event April 1 by dean of the school Dr. Jessica Bailey, left, and Megan James, Alumni Engagement Associate.
Carr, who called receiving the award “amazing and humbling,” said she is thrilled to be a representative for SHRP and UMMC as she travels and works within the community. As coordinator of the advanced standing dental hygiene online baccalaureate degree program, Carr has kept busy in the classroom, but she also finds time to make frequent student recruiting trips within the state, present numerous guest lectures and scientific presentations nationally, and keep up with an impressive slate of professional service roles.
“One day, I'm going to be an 85-year-old lady who just won't retire,” she laughed. “I love SHRP, I love UMMC, and I love the role SHRP plays within UMMC.”
Carr said that, due to a recent change in state regulations, hygienists can now take an active role in community education. “We can go out and do educational presentations on how to floss and brush,” she said. Taking advantage of this new opportunity, Carr built an additional course that is entirely composed of fieldwork for students.
“We're going as many places as we can, evangelizing about brushing and flossing. Our students have a privilege and responsibility to teach people how to take care of themselves,” Carr said.
Everywhere she goes, Carr takes with her the key message that dental hygienists are essential for prevention of dental decay and disease. In a state that has consistently high rates of all dental diseases, from oral cancer to tooth loss to periodontal disease to cavities, Carr stresses the opportunity that SHRP students and alumni have to make a real difference.
“The people who suffer most from dental disease are the ones who don't come to the dental office,” she said. “We can teach our students the importance of empowering the people of Mississippi to take care of their oral health. This is our job.. This is what UMMC and SHRP have given us: a license to practice a profession that can make a difference.”