When Denise A. Davis, Dr.P.H., joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in August 2005 as a program officer, she went from being a researcher and former Foundation grantee to being a grantmaker with the ability to direct funding to national programs aimed at narrowing or eliminating the nation’s health disparities.
On March 13, 2011, the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) recognized Davis for her distinguished service in responding to disparities in oral health by awarding her an ADEA Presidential Citation.
Davis arrived at RWJF with extensive academic training and experience in health care planning, policy and administration, including service as deputy director of the RWJF-funded Information for State Health Policy program. Before that, she studied inequities and disparities in health and health care. Throughout her career, Davis has focused on the seemingly intractable issues that continue to stand in the way of wellness for underserved populations. Joining America’s largest health and health care philanthropy put Davis right where she wanted to be. “I wanted the opportunity to make a difference in leveraging the resources of the Foundation for populations that are historically underserved and lack access to health care,” she says.
She took on the task of overseeing RWJF’s Pipeline, Profession & Practice: Community Based Dental Education program, known more commonly as the Dental Pipeline program. Created by RWJF in 2001, the national demonstration project worked to increase access to dental care among low-income, underserved vulnerable populations with significant unmet oral health needs. To attain this goal, the dental pipeline program focused on addressing the supply side of this equation—increasing the numbers of underrepresented and minority dentists within community practice settings to address the unmet oral health needs of low income diverse populations across the country.
Before the Dental Pipeline program wound down in 2010, it had provided funding to nearly half of the nation’s dental schools. The program had two major objectives: boosting enrollment of low-income, underrepresented minority students in dental schools and increasing the time senior dental students spend in community-based clinics providing care to underserved populations.
As its work progressed, Davis explains, “Dental Pipeline changed the way dental schools look at their applicant pools. Historically, schools have placed emphases on test scores and grade point averages without considering other predictors of success, such as personal statements, volunteerism and background.”
Recognized by the American Dental Association
“Dr. Davis has promoted inter-professional education (IPE) and diversity in health care education, and continues to unite higher education associations on issues around IPE,” says ADEA President Sandra C. Andrieu, M.Ed., Ph.D.
The honor advances Davis’ mission to highlight health disparities and to cooperate with health care associations, dental schools, foundations and other stakeholder groups to bring about change. “As the U.S. population grows increasingly diverse, we need to think holistically about bringing more underrepresented minorities into the fold as dental students and faculty,” she says.
Davis now leads RWJF’s planning for a strategy to sustain and build on the impact of the Dental Pipeline program. “The next frontier is to create cross-disciplinary approaches to educating physicians, nurses and students on how to integrate dental care into primary care,” she says.
In addition to her work with the Dental Pipeline program, Davis manages other RWJF-supported initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and inter-professional education in health care, including the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program and the ADEA Admissions Committee Workshop Project.