40 Years Dedicated to Education, Mission Trips
By Susie Phillips Gonzalez
Jeffery Hicks, D.D.S., believes he inherited his love for education from both of his parents and three of his four grandparents, who were all teachers.
Dr. Hicks also knew, growing up on San Antonio’s South Side with disadvantaged classmates and neighbors, that oral health is important to a person’s confidence, and ultimately, success. He decided to pursue a career in dentistry and earned his D.D.S. from UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry in 1979.
For 40 years, Dr. Hicks has dedicated his educational career, part-time clinical practice and mission outreach to improving oral health education for hundreds of students, residents and dental patients.
Currently professor of comprehensive dentistry, Dr. Hicks served as director of both the Advanced Education Program in General Dentistry (AEGD) and the Advanced Education in General Practice Residency programs, and chair of the Department of Hospital Dentistry at University Hospital—managing clinics, budgets and more than 40 faculty and other staff. Through it all, his heart has been in teaching.
“I wanted to teach and turn out not one of me each year, but 10 of me each year: dentists who could do bone grafts, crowns, dentures, implants,” Dr. Hicks says. “I wanted dentists to go out into the community, and I wanted the field to be more open to people of modest means or no means. I wanted it to be better for others.”
For the first 20 years of his career, Dr. Hicks maintained a part-time practice while teaching full time. He saw patients at University Hospital when it housed a dental clinic, and he gravitated toward patients with disabilities. Dr. Hicks, who is a fellow and diplomate in special care dentistry from the Special Care Dentistry Association, concentrated on patients needing liver or kidney transplants, and those with head or neck cancer, advanced cardiac disease, Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
In the coming year, Dr. Hicks will assume two elite national dentistry roles. As vice chair of the Commission on Dental Accreditation, he will lead business and policy discussions for a governing body that evaluates more than 1,400 dental education programs nationwide and will ascend to the position of commission chair in 2020. In addition, he has been named to a federal advisory committee for training in primary care medicine and dentistry of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Most rewarding for Dr. Hicks is his role in obtaining $16 million in federal training grants from HRSA over the last 25 years. These competitively awarded funds have helped develop residency programs, expand pediatric dentistry pathways, secure faculty development and loan repayment programs and provide scholarships for dental students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including seed money and expansion of the Hispanic Center of Excellence-Dentistry.
Each year, Dr. Hicks leads a dental team to Guatemala to treat indigenous people in need of oral care. The mission has evolved since the 1990s when Dr. Hicks recalls walking up a mountain with buckets of dental instruments. Through a collaboration with the Open Wide Foundation, his team now works in a modern clinic with the latest materials and equipment. Last year, the team of dentists and residents saw 333 patients with developmental disabilities.
Ahmed Sabbah, D.D.S., Ph.D., incoming assistant director for the AEGD residency program, travels with Dr. Hicks to Guatemala. Through Dr. Hicks’ mentorship, Dr. Sabbah has published papers and spoken at conferences. Dr. Sabbah credits him with guidance that led to job promotions.
“Dr. Hicks is an excellent example of a selfless leader who sees potential in everyone and wants to give everyone a chance. He has been very helpful and influential in my career,” Dr. Sabbah says.