by Mary Helen Yarborough
Thirty years ago, Gabrielle Ferguson Cannick had not yet seen the light
of day as her father joined the processional of new MUSC College of
Dental Medicine (CDM) graduates in 1979. Two weeks later, she was born,
setting off for a life charted with academic honors and achievements.
Dr. Gabrielle Ferguson Cannick
On Friday, she earns the rare distinction of receiving a DMD/PhD, an
eight-year grind in which her doctorate in epidemiology focused on oral
cancer prevention and established a precedent for dental school
education on oral cancer examinations.
The cum laude 2001 Furman graduate who majored in biology,
Cannick now looks forward to working with her father, Larry Ferguson,
DMD, in his private Charleston practice where her mother, who has a
master’s in social work, serves as the office manager.
“I’m more of an active-oriented person. I want to be out there in the
community serving people,” said the Charleston native who admits to not
selecting dentistry in her youth.
“My dad worked long, hard hours in his West Ashley office when I was
younger; so his practice took away a lot of his time from the family,”
she recalled. Later, while in college, she developed more of an
interest in the field when she worked in her father’s office.
“But I was really inspired when I shadowed a dentist in Greenville.
That’s when I realized that you can be in the medical field and focus
on oral health. Good oral health is important not only to one’s
self-esteem, but to a person’s overall health.”
a student at MUSC, she met and wed her husband, Leander Cannick III,
M.D. He’s now a radiation oncology resident at MUSC. The two have a
19-month-old daughter, Elizabeth Ann.
Cannick plans to be active in community dentistry focusing her
expertise to tackle the often undiagnosed oral cancer problem that has
inordinately ravaged poor, rural and minority populations. She also is
committed to working with nonprofit clinics to extend dental health
services to the poor and uninsured.
“South Carolina is ranked in the top five in the country in terms of
oral cancer rates. African- Americans are at a higher risk than
Caucasians. We have to improve our prevention and detection of oral
cancer, and improve outcomes,” Cannick said, adding that regular
screening of patients is imperative. “If it is caught early, it can be
treated. The causes of oral cancer are still not completely understood,
but much of it is linked to risk factors, such as tobacco use.”
In her dissertation, Cannick describes oral cancer as a significant
public health issue in the United States. “However, few studies have
examined the relation between oral cancer education and the oral cancer
prevention and detection skills of dental students.”
Her dissertation reported the utilization of the “Precede-Proceed”
framework to develop, implement, and evaluate a randomized
pretest/post-test controlled study to examine the association between
specific oral cancer education and oral cancer prevention and detection
skills among first and second year pre-doctoral dental students
enrolled at MUSC.
Results from her study demonstrated the effectiveness of
faculty-facilitated standardized patient-based training on the oral
cancer prevention and early detection skills of dental students.
use of Precede-Proceed sets a precedent for designing a standardized
oral cancer curriculum for a wide range of health professions
Cannick explained that health professional schools can adapt this
framework to incorporate faculty-facilitated, standardized
patient-based training and required competency measurement into
existing early clinical experiences to train students in oral cancer
prevention and detection.
Cannick said she is in discussions with MUSC CDM on collaborative research she would like to undertake.
Meanwhile, graduation weekend should be a reason for the Ferguson
family to be proud. The oldest of four children, Cannick shares the
academically-inclined tendency of her parents and siblings.
Her sister is earning her doctorate in history from Ohio State
University. Her brother graduated May 3 from Florida A&M with a
master’s in Business Administration; and her youngest sister is
finishing her first year of law school at the University of Miami,
Advice to her family and others: “Love God with all of your heart,
soul, and mind; and value education,” she said. “And like my
grandfather said, the two things that can never be taken away from you
are your faith and your intellect.”
Friday, May 15, 2009