Dental Pipeline Program Graduate Combines Her Two Interests

Public Health and Dentistry - Esther Lopez, DDS, MPH

Synopsis of Work: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the national program Pipeline, Profession & Practice: Community-Based Dental Education (more commonly known as the Dental Pipeline program) in 2001 to help dental schools increase access to dental care for underserved populations. Over five academic years (2002–03 to 2006–07), 15 dental schools (four of which were funded by the California Endowment).

Story Told: Like many Latino children, Esther Lopez, D.D.S., M.P.H., served as her Spanish-speaking parents' primary translator at their many doctor visits. "I was the one figuring out the services," she said. "I became interested in the medical field and I was frustrated at the way immigrants were treated." Lopez finished high school and later graduated from DePaul University in Chicago. Soon after, Lopez began her master's degree program in public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Then she connected with dental school through a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of 15 schools participating in RWJF's Pipeline, Profession & Practice (the Dental Pipeline program).

After graduating from dental school in 2008, Lopez was asked to join Goldie's Place as the dental clinic director. Goldie's Place is an agency whose overall mission is to assist people who are homeless to become employable and ultimately employed so that they can become independent contributing members of the community. Before graduating from U of I, Lopez was involved in setting up a "student run dental clinic" at Goldie's Place, where there already was a volunteer dentist program.

Lopez sees great value in the community-based extramural rotation program. "The extramural rotation program was exactly what I wanted to do," she said, "but I think it had the most impact on those students who never considered working with this population. There were 90 students in my class; most were interested in dentistry for financial reasons. They never considered treating people who needed help. It was interesting to see their transition through the extramural rotations and also having contact with me. It put a face to big issues in the United States and in medical care."