By Brandi Van Ormer, Communications Specialist
In 1986, when Mark Donald was a sophomore in dental school, the Mississippi legislature was considering a proposal to close the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. Unwilling to uproot his family to continue his dental education in a neighboring state, Donald did the only thing he knew to do: he took a week off from school, donned his white coat, and walked the halls of the capitol building, talking to any legislators he could find.
For many reasons, and as the result of combined efforts from many individuals and organizations, the bill that threatened the dental school died, and Mark Donald continued not only his dental studies, he continued to dabble in political advocacy and organized dentistry. During his senior year in dental school, he was appointed as the first senior dental student to serve on the Mississippi Dental Association Board of Directors.
Fast forward to 28 years later, and Dr. Mark Donald has been in private practice in his hometown of Louisville since 1989, is president of the Academy of General Dentistry, past president of the Mississippi Dental Association (MDA), serves as an American Dental Association delegate from Mississippi and has made at least one trip to Washington, DC, every year for the past 18 to lobby Congress on dental and oral health issues.
Considering his career-long devotion to advocacy for his profession, it is not surprising that School of Dentistry alumni chose Donald as the 2016 Dental Alumnus of the Year. Honored at the 34th Annual Dental Alumni and Friends luncheon at River Hills Club on April 29, Donald said it has been his privilege to be able to make a difference in the lives of patients.
“It’s all about the patients,” he said. “Even when the issue is increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for dentists, it’s not really about us getting more, it’s all about the citizens of Mississippi accessing dental care.”
Donald’s efforts have definitely resulted in more filled dental chairs. He played a key role in starting the MDA’s Mission of Mercy project, which delivered free dental care at a two-day event at Hinds Community College in Pearl to over 2,600 Mississippians who could not have otherwise afforded it. In addition, he served as the first chair of the Rural Dental Scholarship Program Commission; the program offers scholarships to dental students who commit to practicing dentistry in Mississippi’s rural and underserved areas. While Donald served on the commission, the program expanded from three scholarships to nine.
Connie Lane, executive director of the MDA, touts Donald’s efforts on behalf of dentistry in Mississippi. “Dentistry is no different than any other health care profession,” she said. “The reality is that if dentists aren’t advocating for our profession, the profession won’t advance, because nobody else will lead that charge. Mark has been in a position where he’s at the table discussing challenges and opportunities that are unique to the profession in our state.”
As Action Team Leader for the MDA, Donald coordinates federal lobby efforts for the organization, as well as helping students from the American Student Dental Association with their lobby efforts on Capitol Hill. He is a past chair of the Mississippi Dental PAC, and was appointed in 2000 by then Governor Ronnie Musgrove to the governor’s Oral Health Task Force, helping to craft the statewide oral health plan for Mississippi.
As she presented his award, Dr. Sherry Gwin, president of the Dental Alumni Board at UMMC, referred to Donald as a “work horse who never gives up when dentistry needs protecting or advanced.” She also commended him for volunteering to teach dental students about advocacy, organized dentistry, and even practice management, as important facets of their profession.
Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry, also congratulated Donald on being chosen as this year’s honored alumnus, and thanked him for his mentorship to UMMC’s dental students.
“Dr. Donald has been an inspiring advocate for dentistry, and for the placement of dentists into the rural communities around Mississippi, for many years. He is a tireless advocate for the citizens of the state, for the dental community, and for the UMMC School of Dentistry,” Felton added.
Donald says his commitment to UMMC and the School of Dentistry runs deep. “I received a very good education at UMMC, and when I came out of school I was ready to start treating patients right away,” he said. “The new dean is mission minded, and I’m excited that he’s focused on giving students the opportunity work with dentists who practice in rural Mississippi towns. I love the mission of the school, and the passion its students have to treat the citizens of Mississippi. That’s my mission, too – one that I’m happy to give my time and effort to.”