ECU Schweitzer Fellow for Life is on a Misson

May 15, 2020. ECU School of Dental Medicine News.

Dr. Akeadra Bell is on a mission.

Now that the 2020 graduate of the ECU School of Dental Medicine is officially an alumna, she has her sights set on making a difference in dentistry—and making dental school a more accessible dream for others.

The Elizabeth City native—and the first School of Dental Medicine graduate from Pasquotank County—won’t forget her eastern North Carolina roots; she plans to stay in touch and stay involved.

Dr. Akeadra Bell is a 2020 graduate of the ECU School of Dental Medicine.

“I am thankful to have been a part of the SoDM story and hope to continue to be a ‘living mission’ for our great institution as I begin my career,” Bell said. “Long term, I plan to have an active role in our communities’ oral health welfare, from education to advocacy and even policy. I am most dedicated to supporting our next generation of dental professionals in achieving their life-long goals.”

Staying active in the dental community isn’t a stretch for Bell—she decided early on to take on leadership levels from Ross Hall to the national level. She served as president of the Student National Dental Association and president of the SoDM’s SNDA chapter. As a J. Bradley Schweitzer Fellow, she and classmate Briana Hudson developed and ran the HIV SMART initiative. She has been active in the American Student Dental Association and served as treasurer of the SoDM Class of 2020, among many other activities and roles.

“From a young age, I developed a strong work ethic and passion for service,” Bell said. “I love being busy and engaged in my school and community. I have always felt that being involved in organizations allows you to be better connected to the community.”

In Her Own Words

What are your plans after graduation, as well as your long-term vision for your career?

“In July, I will begin a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency at the Grady Hospital Systems in Atlanta. The program will provide me with the opportunity to gain more exposure to implantology, pediatrics, removable and fixed prosthodontics. After completion of my residency program, I plan to begin practicing in our great state, hopefully serving in an underserved community.”

What led you to the ECU School of Dental Medicine?

“Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a doctor from the young age of 4. Initially set on pursuing pediatrics, I began participating in health professional related programs. Wearing orthodontics for over 8 years, I never gave dentistry a real thought until I saw my smile transformation. My second orthodontist, Dr. Woodard, was adamant about me changing my pre-medical track to pre-dental, but I would only smile and laugh as he finished my checks each time.

Dr. Akeadra Bell (center) works with participants at the Preparing Tomorrow’s Dentists: Dental CSI program at the CSLC-Elizabeth City in March.

Towards the end of my undergraduate career, I had the unfortunate experience of watching my grandfather’s demise from complications related to type II diabetes. I prided myself on being by his side, but every cold provider interaction pushed me further away from pursuing pediatrics and medicine. With a passion for children, I decided to pursue teaching, while I researched and shadowed other health care professions.

Still not to intrigued by my orthodontist’s dental invitation, I completed my orthodontic experience and began consultation for the implant to replace #10. Talking to my dentist, Dr. Rice, during our initial visit, he took the time to hear my story and share his. I was amazed at how similar our stories were and took him up on the invitation to shadow. That conversation was a game-changer. I began shadowing Dr. Rice the following week, while on summer break from teaching, and witnessed the near instant impact dental work had on patients. Being intrigued from my first few days, I held a mirror up as he completed the seating of my implant crown and crown on #7 on my peg lateral. The moment I saw my new smile, I knew that dentistry was for me.

I still remember the day I was sitting in class, a few days after my ECU interview, when my phone rang with a Greenville number. I left my students in the classroom, ran in the hallway, to hear the great news. Crying and overjoyed, I had to regain composure before returning to the classroom. Thankful for the new journey I was about to embark on, I pondered how to tell my students over the next 5 months; it was the hardest thing I had to do. My students kept me motivated during dental school; I knew they were watching and refused to let them down.”

In what ways do you hope you’re leaving the SoDM ‘better than you found it?’

“Completing my dental training at the SoDM has provided me with more opportunities than I could have asked for. I hope that my involvement has reached beyond the walls of the dental school to inspire and encourage the next generation of dental professionals to attend our wonderful program.

I hope I have encouraged current students to push further and go beyond what is asked and that my participation and representation of ECU at all levels has shined a positive light on our institution. As an HBCU graduate and the first student to matriculate from Elizabeth City State University, I hope that I have left a lasting impression that will reflect highly on my undergraduate training and graduates of all HBCUs.”

In your opinion, what makes the SoDM student experience different from any other in the state and nation?

“Experience and support. As students at SoDM, we receive a tremendous amount of experience in comparison to students being trained at other programs. Our service learning centers provide us with the opportunity to increase our speed, knowledge base and skill set while being immersed in communities across the state. Rotating from location to location and learning under different leadership and management allows us to learn so much about our field.

Throughout my rigorous four years, I have been encouraged and supported in every endeavor. The support received after the loss of my grandmother during my first year re-solidified my choice of institution. The encouragement and kindness from my SoDM family was unbelievable.

There was something special about SoDM on the day of my interview, and that same feeling resonates now. I am a proud SoDM graduate.”

By Spaine Stephens