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Dr. Melissa Parra: On a mission to provide every patient with a smile

Dr. Melissa Parra

As a member of the uniformed services, Melissa Parra, DMD, ’11, is on a mission to provide oral health to individuals with limited access to care. Dr. Parra completed her undergraduate education while enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). She then commissioned as a second lieutenant and attended ATSU-ASDOH through a graduate health professions scholarship program.

After serving 15 years with USAF, she transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). This transition led Dr. Parra to a position in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, followed by a position at Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Services Corps, South Texas ICE Processing Center.

“My responsibilities are to provide clinical oversight and multidisciplinary dental care to an underserved population in a detention center,” Dr. Parra said.

At the ICE Processing Center, Dr. Parra tries to ensure every patient she sees leaves with a smile but often encounters language barriers when seeing patients from all over the world.

“In order to treat my patients, I have to phone a translator for their specific language, and at times, the translator can have a bad connection or not know English very well,” Dr. Parra said.

Despite those challenges, Dr. Parra finds her current role very rewarding. Recently, the U.S. surgeon general appointed Dr. Parra as a voting member to the Hispanic Officers Advisory Committee and Dental Professional Advisory Committee. In both committees, she provides consultation and advice to the surgeon general on issues related to professional practices, personnel activities, and matters concerning Hispanic/Latino communities nationally and globally.

Dr. Parra serves as chair of the Women’s Initiatives Subcommittee, where she has received recognition for her leadership and contributions. She champions women dentists in leadership and takes note of how far women dentists have come in America. This is done in part through her Quarterly Webinar Speaker Series, which addresses topics from women’s health and wellness to leadership and resilience.

“I encourage our women dentists in USPHS to collaborate with the American Association for Women Dentists,” Dr. Parra said. “I believe it is important to be connected with as many women dentists as possible to stand by, encourage, and cheer each other on.”

Dr. Parra is also completing a master of science in human nutrition, as she aspires to become a national advocate in nutrition and oral health for underprivileged communities.

With a full plate professionally, Dr. Parra takes time to decompress, whether it’s banging on her exotic mini drums or treating herself to a spa day. But the ones she truly credits with keeping her centered are her husband and two children. Dr. Parra considers it a blessing to be a part of various professional committees and organizations, including remote area deployments throughout the nation.

“I get to work with many of the nation’s finest physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and pediatricians,” Dr. Parra said. “Serving individuals with limited access to quality oral healthcare has always been my goal. I am rewarded knowing I am making a difference in underprivileged communities.”

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