Published on Thursday, February 13, 2020
By: Kate Royals, [email protected]
Dr. Barbara Mauldin, a 1984 graduate of the School of Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the 2020 Dental Alumna of the Year, almost didn’t become a dentist.
This is despite the fact she began her career as a dental hygienist and that her father was a dentist in her hometown of Vicksburg.
But after her husband completed graduate school while she was working, she approached him about going back to school herself. She told him she wanted to go to medical school.
He agreed, but asked why she would want to leave dentistry.
She considered her husband’s point.
“I had never given a thought to being a lady dentist because there weren’t any, to my knowledge, back in that time period,” Mauldin remembered. “I had never (considered) being the dentist and not just an auxiliary in the office.”
That conversation would shape the rest of her life.
After returning to the University of Southern Mississippi to complete her degree and prerequisite courses, she applied and interviewed for a spot in the dental school along with her older brother.
She began dental school at 24 years old as one of five women in a class of 50.
“I’ve always felt as if I’ve been blessed by God with giving me the idea of pursuing dentistry,” she said.
She said times were different then, but the education she received was superior.
“I remember being at one of the clinics with one of these graduates (a resident from another school), and he was asking me, as a junior, how to do certain procedures. He didn’t know what I already knew and I’d only had two years to his four,” she remembered. “I thought at that moment, ‘I’m in a very, very good school.’”
Her education has served her well, she said. She has run her own practice in Petal since 1984 while remaining involved in her community, raising four children of her own and a foster son and taking on leadership roles in organized dentistry.
She is currently the president of the Mississippi Dental Association, where she was the first female dentist to become Speaker of the House in 2007.
Dr. Butch Gilbert, professor emeritus in the School of Dentistry, was one of Mauldin’s teachers during dental school.
“Barbara came to the dental school as a dental student with high academic abilities, leadership skills and commitment to service. That has translated into what she has accomplished in her practice and community through the years,” said Gilbert. “Her integrity, compassion for others and leadership abilities make her a wonderful role model for dental students and young dentists. As to her accomplishments and values, she is what the Alumnus of the Year award represents.”
As Gilbert and those who know Mauldin will say, community and service are important to her, values for which she credits her parents.
“One of the things I learned from my parents is communities don’t just happen,” she said, explaining how she watched her father in his dentistry practice in Vicksburg.
As soon as she opened her own practice, she joined the Petal Chamber of Commerce. When Rotary Club began accepting women, she joined her local chapter and became president in 1999. She is now involved with the organization at the district level, which spans southeast Mississippi and southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans.
She has been on mission trips to Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru and Nepal. She was involved in the creation of the Fellowship Health Clinic in Hattiesburg. The clinic provides medical, dental and pharmaceutical care to uninsured and underinsured people in Forrest and Lamar counties, and Mauldin performs free tooth extractions for patients who are referred to her from the clinic.
Her dedication to service is what prompts Dr. Charles Harrell, a fellow dentist in Petal, to describe her as “very kindhearted and passionate about what she does.”
Harrell, a 1990 graduate of the School of Dentistry, remembers how Mauldin took him under her wings when he first started his practice just down the street from her practice.
“She’s done a lot for the dental profession and works to provide better patient care,” said Harrell, referring to her longtime involvement with the Mississippi Dental Association.
Mauldin was honored during the annual Dental Alumni and Friends dinner on Friday.
“It really does mean a lot to me,” said Mauldin. “I’ve had a lot of accolades over the years, but to be recognized by my peers is something that stands out to me.”