Photo: Dr. Esther López
There is nothing ordinary about the extraordinary Dr. Esther Lopez and her mammoth goal of obtaining dental care access for underserved populations. From her early days as a child of a Cuban immigrant to standout dental student to creator of a prototype dental program for the underserved– Dr. Lopez is a Hispanic standout.
Dr. Lopez’s career and advocacy started early in her life, serving as her mother’s translator through her countless medical appointments as she battled with leukemia as an uninsured patient. The eventual death of her mother at age 42 when she was just 12 years old left an inedible mark and is shaping Lopez’ legacy in health care.
As she said “I have a personal mission and have been very affected by the loss of my parents and seeing how the health care system has built in injustices.”
In 2003 she started her journey as a dental student, one of only six minority students in a class of 90. She was undeterred even though she was now parent-less, losing her father at age 19. She was a standout dental school student that came to the attention of the Dental Pipeline Program.
The Dental Pipeline Program operated from 2001 to July 2010, with the purpose of providing access to affordable dental care to those in underserved communities. The program also gave minorities pursuing a dental education/career an opportunity to serve those in their communities.
It was here that her goal to reshape dental health care models for underserved communities was born. She credits the Dental Pipeline Program for inspiring her and ‘parenting her professionally’ commenting, “I couldn’t do it without their resources and their mentorship.”
You see Esther decided, unlike many of her professional peers, to go help the most vulnerable- homeless Latinos and African Americans. You will find her most days at the student run dental clinic she created on Chicago’s north side at Goldie’s Place.
Here Esther recruits minority students in the hopes they will return to their community, her very own take on the Dental Pipeline Program. She gets the volunteers, writes the grants, and trains homeless individuals to become dental assistants. When HS News interviewed her she had just come back from graduating 5 homeless people into the dental health care industry, her pride was palpable.
This Hispanic standout is “trying to get more dental students to give back and working on replicating the Goldie’s health care model throughout the country.” And no one doubts it can’t be done with Dr. Esther Lopez in charge.