Abbey Kristin Onan, D.D.S.

Valuable Mentorship and the ADEA/MDFD Allow Dr. Abbey Onan to Follow a Path Into Academic Dentistry

Abbey Kristin Onan, D.D.S.Over the past several years, the ADEA/W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has funded several iterations of the Minority Dental Faculty Development (ADEA MDFD) program. The program has funded 14 dental schools in their efforts to achieve equity, diversity and multicultural value in dental education. WKKF funding allowed these institutions to recruit and develop underrepresented minority students and faculty entering academic careers. The cascading effects of the mentoring received by the trainees is documented in their real-life experiences, professional careers and lifelong commitment in service as mentors to future students and colleagues and in their inspiring personal interviews. Their stories are documented in Profiles of Success.

Abbey Kristin Onan, D.D.S., a Native American of Cherokee origin, was born in Tulsa, OK, but calls Edmond, OK, her home because her family moved there during her early years. She reflects that her hardworking and loving parents instilled in her the encouraging words that “you can be anything you want to be.” She never felt gender limitations as she completed her undergraduate education at the University of Oklahoma in 1999 and graduated from University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry (OU COD) in 2004. Dr. Onan spent nearly three years in private practice as an associate—one year in Oklahoma City and two in Chicago—before returning to Oklahoma to establish her solo private practice. Upon returning from Chicago, Dr. Onan started teaching part-time while plans were being drawn for her new office. Two weeks before breaking ground, her mentors encouraged and facilitated academia as a career path.

Dr. Onan values the mentoring she received from James Kessler, D.D.S., Chair, Department of Restorative Dentistry, and Stephen Young, D.D.S., M.S., former Dean of OU COD, who encouraged her to consider a teaching career, as well as her immediate supervisor, Luis Blanco, D.M.D., M.S., Chair, Fixed Prosthodontics. They made it possible for her to decide to leave private practice and join the dental faculty full time. She values that the ADEA/MDFD program contributed to the competitive compensation package that allowed her to join the faculty as a full-time instructor and the help she received from the loan repayment program sponsored by the state of Oklahoma. 

Her reflections include both Kevin Avery, D.M.D., and Dr. Kessler as important mentors in her focus on Native American culture. An invaluable experience at the Native American Center of Excellence in Ketchikan, AK, was made possible for her by Dr. Avery. She notes, “I would not have known about the resources available without Dr. Avery. In fact, I would not have known about the WKKF program that initially helped fund my education.”

Dr. Onan has developed a strong sense of humanistic clinical practice and collaborative care across disciplines. She is now a group practice director in the Comprehensive Care program. Her schedule allows time for faculty practice, which she considers as both an income supplement and a clinical proficiency determinant. She values the diverse group of students with whom she interacts daily. The team of clinical students under her supervision range from D2 to D4. Dr. Onan says she mentors them daily. Dr. Onan invites the students to potluck dinners at her home, where she helps create a sense of community through shared foods, cultures, interests and discussions.

In addition to clinical teaching, she directs a Treatment Planning Seminar once a year using a case presentation format and guest faculty. She is also responsible for special needs patients in the Comprehensive Care Clinic and has served as a faculty advisor to the Good Shepherd Mission, a dental clinic operated by students.

Her faculty responsibilities include service on major committees, including the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Discrimination and Harassment Committee, the Faculty Senate of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the OU Dentistry Faculty Practice Advisory Board and the Comprehensive Care Strategic Planning Committee. She values these old and new service opportunities, recalling that she was the youngest representative from the College of Dentistry to the school’s Faculty Senate.

Dr. Onan, now a Clinical Associate Professor, shares her personal story with students and potential faculty recruits. She tells them that she did not set out to be a dental faculty member. Sharing this story helps her recruit gifted individuals to academic dental careers, and she has been recognized by students as an “outstanding” instructor.

Dr. Onan believes that “dentistry is an amazing profession because it allows both art and technical skills to treat the human body.”