In 2010, Vanessa Franks, DDS, became the 11th recipient of the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant — a flagship program that aims to offset some of the financial burden of student loan debt in exchange for a three-year commitment by recipients to care for the underserved. Describing herself as “a natural caretaker with a strong inherent motivation to enrich the lives of others,” Dr. Franks said a career in public health had been a longtime goal.
This series looks at the careers of past recipients of the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant.
In 2010, Vanessa Franks, DDS, became the 11th recipient of the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant — a flagship program that aims to offset some of the financial burden of student loan debt in exchange for a three-year commitment by recipients to care for the underserved. Describing herself as “a natural caretaker with a strong inherent motivation to enrich the lives of others,” Dr. Franks said a career in public health had been a longtime goal — even before she set out to pursue a degree in dentistry.
“Growing up, there were times when we had health care and times when we did not. Because I come from a background that is relatable to patients seen in community health centers, the desire to work in public health came natural to me,” said Franks.
She began practicing at the LifeLong Brookside Community Health Center in San Pablo, in the East Bay, shortly after graduating from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry in 2008. There she also fulfilled her three-year commitment to care for underserved populations as the Foundation’s grant recipient. From 2010 to 2013, she treated 7,260 patients, providing nearly $2 million in care.
Over the next few years, Franks went on to treat low-income patients in San Rafael and San Francisco before accepting a position at the Sacramento Native American Health Center where she remains today.
As the dental director at SNAHC, Franks has been described by her peers as “the glue that holds the dental department together.” Much of her position revolves around providing access to care and oral health education to high-need patients. Additionally, she oversees peer reviews, student externships and everyday operations to ensure the clinic runs efficiently.
“Our patients really depend on us. Many of them are affected by a variety of life circumstances beyond their control, which limits their access to health care,” Franks said. “It’s fulfilling to welcome them into an environment where they can feel well taken care of and get a boost of self-esteem.”
An Oakland native, Franks spent most of her childhood and young adulthood in the Bay Area. She recalls having “good times and bad times growing up” and certain periods when her family had to find ways to get by without health insurance. Sustaining good oral health was important to her family, but sometimes their efforts went in vain.
“My parents worked hard to take care of us and feed us a healthy diet, but back in those days, there were almost daily trips home from school that involved stopping at the corner store to buy candy for 5 cents — this resulted in a lot of tooth decay for us,” she said.
Educating families and helping patients maintain a healthy lifestyle fuel Franks’ desire to continue working in public health. She credits the CDA Foundation as one of the supporting factors that have allowed her to find success on this career path.
“The Student Loan Repayment Grant gives hope to people working in public health,” she said. “It allows a dentist to focus on providing care to patients without worrying about the great burden of student loan debt and the growing pressure to choose career paths solely based off the ability to pay off student loans.”
Enjoying the daily challenges and experiences that come along with working in public health, Franks hopes to expand access to care to even more individuals in the near future. “I would really like to participate in our clinic expansion and bring services to a community outside of the midtown Sacramento area that has a great need for dental services.”
Since 2002, the Student Loan Repayment Grant has enabled 19 dentists to embrace their dream of working in public health and has helped nearly 100,000 patients in underserved communities receive $27 million in care.
The award provides up to $35,000 per year and a maximum of $105,000 over three years to be applied toward repaying the dentists’ educational loan. The selected runner-up will receive the Webb Family Grant, named for Russell Webb, DDS, and Kathi Webb, which provides an award of up to $5,000 toward the recipient’s educational loan.
Grant applications will be accepted through end of day Wednesday, July 31. Access the application and guidelines on the Foundation’s website.
Photo: Dr. Franks (center) with some members of the dental staff at the Sacramento Native American Health Center.