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Friend of the Underserved, Sharon Stull Gets National Recognition in Dental Hygiene

Sharon Stull

Four years ago, ODU alumna and adjunct faculty member Sharon C. Stull received the Colgate/American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) Community Outreach Award for her leadership in delivering dental care to the most vulnerable underserved populations in eastern Virginia.

This summer, Stull's public health initiatives captured the attention of the Procter & Gamble, Crest/Oral-B "Pro in the Profession" national award competition. She was one of five 2011 winners among 3,000 professionals nominated for the honor.

Hundreds of people who have benefited from Stull's dental hygiene public health initiatives and organizational skills were with her in spirit, if not in person, in June when she was honored at the ADHA annual meeting in Nashville.

These clients include seniors in nursing homes, children from Head Start programs and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Norfolk, associates at Eggleston Services Inc. and students at Princess Anne High School who have developmental disabilities, local participants in the national Project Homeless Connect, and most recently, residents of St. Mary's Home for Disabled Children. Altogether, the clients received approximately $500,000 in free dental care because of Stull's service and leadership.

A proverbial multitasker, Stull takes up the cause of the dentally underserved via myriad channels. Since 1992, she has been a volunteer dental hygienist with the Chesapeake Care Free Clinic and is currently an executive board member. One of the most significant increases in dental services at Chesapeake Care has resulted from an affiliation agreement with the Virginia Commonwealth University dental school that Stull initiated. Beginning with a wait-list of more than 1,000 people who have no medical or dental insurance, Chesapeake Care recruited the fourth-year VCU dental students for externships and has brought the wait-list down to 150. In the first year of the program, alone, Stull and the students provided $135,000 worth of donated dental services to underserved members in the community.

Stull, who received a bachelor's degree in 1996 and master's in dental hygiene in 2002 from ODU, leverages her influence on the region's dental health by teaching the College of Health Sciences' Community Oral Health Planning and Practice courses, which involves classroom work during the fall semester and service learning activities in the spring. This past spring, for example, Stull and 41 dental hygiene seniors provided $85,000 worth of donated oral health care educational and clinical services to the community.

She is the immediate past president of the Oral Health Improvement Coalition (OHIC) of South Hampton Roads, a community collective of more than 22 organizations working to provide the most vulnerable populations in the region - the dentally uninsured and underinsured - with dental access and educational awareness and prevention programs. Among the coalition's initiatives has been a Dental Voucher Program that offers participants low-cost care at the Sofia and David Konikoff Dental Hygiene Care Facility at ODU.

Thanks to Stull and her students, as well as to her partnership with the Giving Hands Foundation through the Pankey Institute, a Florida institution of advanced dental education for dentists, the OHIC sponsored three Pankey Institute Dental Access Weekends in Hampton Roads while Stull was president. This project has resulted in $280,000 worth of dental services being donated to underserved residents in the region.

Stull said she believes it was her role in public health that made her stand out among the 3,000 nominees and was a main reason she received the national Pro in the Profession award, which carries a $1,500 prize.

"None of these things I do alone," Stull said. But she does acknowledge a very special call to service: "It's always there, this passion to help those who have great need."

Michele Darby, the ODU Eminent Scholar and University Professor who chairs the dental hygiene program, nominated Stull for the Pro in the Profession award and summed up her colleague in these words: "Sharon epitomizes volunteerism, humanitarianism and commitment to people in need of dental care. She is one of those very special people able to engage persons of all backgrounds and beliefs in a positive manner."

Darby called the award "outstanding national recognition and achievement" that brings "honor to Sharon, our region, department and the university."

Stull's students were also quick to praise her upon learning of the award. "Ms. Stull was probably one of the most caring teachers (in) the dental hygiene program. She's the reason why a lot of the dental hygiene students have the experience that they do in the community," said Jennifer Uwanaka, a 2011 graduate of the dental hygiene program.

As for Stull, she said she's been blessed with professional success to the point where "to give back is essential if we are true oral health professionals. It is about accessing all citizens not just the ones who can seek care; it is about those who cannot as well."

This article was posted on: August 18, 2011

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