A Former Native Scholar Provides Public Health Leadership

Dr. Fontenot works to improve the oral health of her patients at the Tséhootsooi Medical Center in Fort Defiance, AZ

Theme(s):
Entrepreneurship & Workforce Development

Raising the health leadership of Native people to the highest possible level represents a critical component of our mission at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.

For this reason, our Center is overjoyed to watch Dr. Felicia Fontenot’s career unfold. Fontenot, one of our former Native Scholars, currently works as a deputy dental director at the Tséhootsooi Medical Center, a hospital operated by the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, AZ. Dr. Fontenot, formerly Dr. Frizzell, practices general dentistry and treats patients from 2 to 90 years of age in addition to supervising staff and programs at the Medical Center.

“About once a week, as a dentist, a patient will say to me, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that I see someone who looks like me. I thought you were going to be a man and I thought you were going to be a white man!” Fontenot said during an interview for the documentary Science and Wisdom to Save the World.

Fontenot, who comes from the Mescalero Apache Reservation in Mescalero, New Mexico, originally began working with our Center after graduating from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in human biology. She served as a coordinator for our Center’s training programs, which combine epidemiological and biological public health perspectives with understanding of culture and the interaction of people in their communities.

Fontenot also obtained a Master’s of Health Science (MHS) in reproductive biology with the help of a full tuition scholarship from our Center.

Fontenot originally planned on attending medical school, but decided to become a dentist after hearing a lecture at JHU on how American Indians suffer from the highest burden of dental carries, oral disease, and tooth loss in the county. She remembers wondering to herself how many American Indian dentists there were at the time.

She subsequently chose to attend the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and received her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) in 2011.

“I really enjoy the clinical aspect of it,” Fontenot said of dentistry.

In the future, Fontenot is interested in obtaining a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) and working to promote oral health among American Indians from a preventative perspective. However, she has also considered the possibility of completing a residency in pediatric dentistry.

Whatever path Fontenot chooses, our Center is confident that she will continue to make an impact on American Indian health.