M.P.H. student melds dentistry and public health

Abby Shannon, D.D.S. receives the USPHS Buell Award.
Rear Admiral Nicholas Makrides, D.M.D., M.A., M.P.H., chief dental officer with the U.S. Public Health Service, presented Abby Shannon with the USPHS Buell Award.

Although she earned her dental degree just seven years ago, Abby Shannon, D.D.S., has taken her career far beyond filling cavities and fitting dentures. A student in DMU’s master of public health program and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), she’s applied her knowledge and passion to improving access to and quality of care.

For her achievements and contributions, in May Shannon received the USPHS Ernest Eugene Buell Dental Award, named after the first USPHS Commissioned Corps dental officer, for making significant contributions in oral health education, research or service. The Corps is the nation’s uniformed service of public health professionals.

“The award is meaningful to me because it is given to a junior officer for a significant contribution. It is an honor to be recognized by my peers for the work that I have done,” says Shannon, who practices at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, NJ.

She was nominated for the award by a fellow dentist and former colleague for her work with the Indian Health Service (IHS) in Sisseton, SD, where she moved in 2009 after a year of private practice in Orange City, IA. Based in Sisseton’s Woodrow Wilson Keeble Memorial Health Care Center, in addition to providing dental care, she helped with a conversion from paper charts to digital charting and then maintained and trouble-shot the system until she left in August 2014. She implemented a peer review system with chart audits to improve record keeping, improve communication and reduce risk of misdiagnoses. She started an extern program so that dental students could experience IHS dentistry.

In addition, she coordinated dental care with local obstetrics/gynecology providers to improve access to care to the prenatal population. She also increased the amount of patient care she provided by more than 48 percent in 2014 and received her commission in the USPHS.

“I had not previously considered public health prior to graduation from dental school and did not realize all the opportunities that IHS offered,” she says.

Shannon decided to pursue the M.P.H. degree to better understand the policies and procedures of public health. “Working in this field, it has not always been clear why we do the things we do,” she notes. “The M.P.H. program has done a great job of making this more clear as well as enabling me to explain our health care system better to my patients.”

Students also can complete the M.P.H. program entirely online, a good option for Shannon given the possible change in where she will be stationed. She is excited about the program’s future impact on her career and patients, too.

“I see the M.P.H. [degree] opening more doors for me both in public health and in dentistry,” she says. She’s currently working on her capstone project on the educational outcomes of a dental public health continuing education course taken by dental hygienists.

“I would like to get more involved with dental public health policy and programs,” she says.

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