"I'm grateful for the respect that I was shown as a student which contributed to a positive attitude and a desire to be involved and hopefully make a difference in our profession."
Dr. Debra S. Finney, a 1986 graduate of Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, shattered the glass ceiling at the California Dental Association (CDA). On November 9, 2003, she was installed as the first woman president in the association's 133-year history.
"If I can achieve this goal, anyone can," stated Debra. "I wasn't elected because I'm a woman. I would have never even been considered qualified if I were not first a dentist and one with 20-plus years of experience and leadership in organized dentistry."
Debra, a noted Sacramento-area periodontist, has served the CDA in a multitude of capacities since 1990. Her background is unique and varied. She's been a dental assistant, dental hygienist, educator, periodontist and officer of numerous professional associations.
While growing up in Ketchikan, Alaska, Debra decided to give dentistry a try by working as a dental assistant - at age 15 - in a family friend's dental office after school. She earned her bachelor's degree in dental hygiene from Idaho State University and later became president of the Alaska Dental Hygiene Society. She also earned a master's degree in oral biology from University of Washington that led to a teaching position at Western Kentucky University. Debra accomplished all of this before starting dental school at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in 1983.
During dental school, she took an active role in student government, serving as student representative to the American Association of Dental Schools, now known as the American Dental Education Association. "I am grateful for the respect that I was shown as a student at Pacific which contributed to a positive attitude and a desire to be involved and hopefully make a difference in our profession."
Upon graduation from dental school in 1986, Debra joined Baylor School of Dentistry, Department of Periodontics, as a research fellow in stomatology. "It was there that I decided to specialize in periodontics, as I could use my background in hygiene, pathology and oral medicine," said Debra. She went onto receive a certificate in periodontics from the University of Texas in San Antonio.
"It was my continued interest in education that attracted me to apply for a position on the CDA Council on Education and Membership Services shortly after I started practicing periodontics in California," said Debra. Throughout her career, Debra has given numerous presentations and continuing education lectures, and has taught courses for dental hygiene programs and dental schools.
"I have developed leadership skills through a variety of different roles," she said. "I think having been involved and a part of different organizations allowed me to understand the concerns they raise. In addition to knowledge, experience and compassion, I have a willingness to serve dentistry as a leader."
When asked what advice she would give to recent graduates, particularly women, about taking leadership roles in organized dentistry, Debra responded, "Organized dentistry needs the voice of all those in our profession. Representation of new practitioners, women and other under-represented groups is important so organized dentistry can best serve the profession and preserve the standard of care."