JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi has 1,361 practicing dentists. Of those, 78 are orthodontists. Of those, 14 percent are female. Of those, only one is African-American: Dr. Chandra Minor, a 2012 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.
Being the only African-American female orthodontist practicing in the state isn’t the only thing that’s special about Minor. Her drive, determination and focus have made her a standout since high school.
“Neither one of my parents worked in the health field, but they always encouraged me to do my best,” Minor said. “That’s how they influenced me to go into health care.”
In high school, Minor took part in Beta Club, the Student Government Association and Health Occupation Students of American, and was a member of the yearbook staff. She was even named Miss Hazlehurst High School during her senior year.
“Chandra has had her head on straight the whole time,” said Dr. Gaarmel Funches, director of community education and outreach and assistant director for multicultural affairs at UMMC. “She is one of the few students who went from the high school program all the way through the outreach programs to being accepted into dental school.”
Funches is referring to EXCEL and Medical Cooperative Program, or MEDCORP, that Minor participated in as a high school and undergraduate student. EXCEL was funded by a federal Health Careers Opportunity Program grant through the Department of Health and Human Services.
Minor was a perfect example of the student the EXCEL program was designed to assist: underrepresented students from rural areas. She grew up in a rural community just outside Hazlehurst.
“I grew up in a little community called Byrdtown, off the Gallman exit (on Interstate 55),” she said. “I’m a country girl. Pretty much all my family lives in the same community.”
With the program, Minor was on the Alcorn State University campus in Lorman the summer before her sophomore and junior years at Hazlehurst High School, being introduced to classes she would have to take if she pursued a career in the medical field. The summer workshops and an allied health program in high school sparked her interest in health care.
“The allied health program introduced us to the health field, more like nursing though, really,” Minor said. “We had rotations at our local nursing home, learning to do things there.
“In the EXCEL program, I shadowed all sorts of professionals: nurse anesthetists, physicians, dentists, optometrists.”
Minor attended the MEDCORP summer programs during her undergraduate studies at Alcorn. The programs prepare students for the rigors of the medical or dental school curriculum. Students take core courses for science majors during the first two years, then are taught test-taking and study skills during the final two years in preparation for the MCAT or DAT.
Minor was encouraged to pursue dentistry by her personal dentist, Dr. Carla Rushing, a 2003 School of Dentistry graduate.
“She pushed me and said that this is a great field, especially for women, if you want to have a family. So I went for it.”
Minor graduated in 2004 as valedictorian of her class at Hazlehurst High School and went on to earn a degree in biology from Alcorn State University. She was then accepted into the School of Dentistry.
“Being accepted into dental school was a surreal moment,” she said. “I worked hard. I always tried my best in school, but I was grateful for the opportunity. I understood that they only accept a small number of students in comparison to the number of applications they receive.
“Of course, it was difficult. It was a challenge, but I made it. It was the same with residency.”
Minor completed her orthodontics residency at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and began her practice in 2014. She maintains an even more rigorous and dedicated pace in her business than in her academic career, alternating between Vicksburg, Pearl and McComb during the week and every other Saturday.
“Running a business is the most challenging and difficult part,” she said. “I stay here late most nights. When I get home, sometimes I eat. Sometimes I just pass out.
“My mom has really helped me a lot during this time of starting my business. I’m grateful for her.”
Minor is not the first African-American orthodontist to practice in Mississippi. That honor went to the late Dr. Theodore Jones, who served on the UMMC faculty from 1974 to 1984. Jones was chair of the Department of Orthodontics in 1978-81.
“I met Dr. Jones my last year of dental school,” Minor said. “Students had to do an externship, a private practice rotation. I did mine at his office in Jackson. I went a couple of other times to visit with him and shadow.”
She learned of his death during the first few weeks of her residency at Howard.
“I am happy to carry on his legacy,” Minor said. “I want people to know that he was the first black orthodontist in Mississippi. It’s important to say ‘female’ (when referring to Minor) because I must acknowledge him as a pioneer.”
Other African-American females have graduated from the School of Dentistry and pursued specialties in orthodontics; however, Minor is the first to return to Mississippi to practice.
“I’m really happy that she came back to practice orthodontics in Mississippi,” said Dr. Wilhelmina O’Reilly, assistant dean for student affairs and professor of pediatric dentistry and community oral health. “I think it helps with health disparities when patients see ethnicities such as themselves.
“She’ll be a role model and make kids think ‘We can do this.'”
For Minor, there is no place she’d rather be than in Mississippi. As a recipient of the Robert Hearin Scholarship, practicing in Mississippi was a requirement after she completed training.
“I accepted the scholarship with the thought, ‘Where else would I live? Mississippi is home,'” she said. “Of course I’m going to live in Mississippi. Most of my family is here.”
With regards to being a role model, Minor is modest.
“It’s hard for me to think of myself as a role model. I’m still just little ol’ me. I feel blessed to be here. It’s an honor and a privilege.”