Oral Health Month

In celebration of Oral Health Month, we are proud to highlight some of our amazing alumni as part of a special “in conversation with” feature to learn more about their time at UBC Dentistry and where they are today! Our second connection is with Donna Lee, a dental hygienist who graduated from the Bachelor of Dental Hygiene program and the combined UBC Medicine Master of Public Health and Diploma in Dental Public Health Specialty from Dentistry.

Can you walk us through your career journey?

I graduated with a dental hygiene diploma from Vancouver Community College in 1994. After graduation, I went on to practice as a periodontal dental hygienist. The practice I worked at had a satellite office in Whitehorse, Yukon, so I travelled there four times a year for 20 years.

While working full time, I did UBC’s dental hygiene degree completion program and received my Bachelor of Dental Science Degree in 2014. My time in the Yukon sparked my interest in the oral healthcare disparity in Indigenous populations, which prompted me to pursue a dual Master of Public Health and Diploma in Dental Public Health. I was the first student and only cohort to complete this specialty program.

After finishing my Masters, I moved to Iqaluit, Nunavut and worked with the Inuit population as an oral health promotion specialist. My role was focused on oral health education and ensuring the territory delivered standardized and evidence-based information to the public. During the height of the pandemic, I managed the Government of Nunavut Telemedicine Program to support healthcare professionals across the territory in delivering health care to Inuit communities.

Tell us a bit about your current work.

I returned to Vancouver in 2022 and now work part-time as a clinical dental hygienist in a private practice. Once a week I teach dental hygiene students at UBC, and I’m currently teaching the third-year cohort.

I also work part-time with the Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society as an Oral Health Community Engagement Navigator and Dental Hygiene Coordinator. My role focuses on developing an oral health program for Indigenous children and families living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A big part of my work is relationship building and re-gaining trust due to the historic trauma with respect to dentistry in Indigenous populations. I also deliver workshops and training sessions for family support workers at the Society, to help them give advice and answer questions about oral care that families often have.

What do you love most about the work you do?

I love meeting patients, community members and families (I predominately work with Indigenous populations and the terms patient and community member are synonymous). I approach my work by developing relationships with community members, rather than going into autopilot and immediately looking into their mouths. I believe by getting to know them better, I learn more about their history, including if they’ve been traumatized by past dental visits, which enables me to provide oral health care in a safer and more welcoming environment.

I’ve travelled and provided oral care to many rural and remote Indigenous communities throughout my career, so I certainly have a deep passion for providing oral care in a good way.

What advice would you give to students currently in the dental hygiene program?

I continuously tell my students to be a sponge—absorb as much information as possible and don’t be afraid to ask questions. No question is a silly question. You will meet a lot of instructors, and each has something valuable to offer as you begin to build your own dental hygiene career.

Where was your favourite place to study at UBC?

Koerner Library was my second home. It’s spacious with a lot of natural lighting, so it was very conducive to studying.

What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon?

Going for a long run or hike and then recharging with a greasy breakfast—preferably bacon, eggs, hash browns and ketchup!