Thursday, September 30, 2021

For 34 years, Dr. Ana Diaz-Arnold (’84 G.P.R., ’87 M.S.) has been a fixture in the Department of Family Dentistry, teaching countless fourth-year dental students, mentoring and working alongside adjunct faculty, and treating her own patients, and as she retires in June 2022, her impact on the college and the dental profession in Iowa will remain long afterward.

Diaz-Arnold originally ended up at the College of Dentistry after following her husband, Mark Arnold, to Iowa.

When Mark earned his Ph.D. in 1982, “there were not many chemistry faculty positions open,” Diaz-Arnold said, and, “I was a D3 at Indiana and he drew a circle within a day’s driving distance of Indianapolis.”

There happened to an opening in chemistry at Iowa, and a year later Diaz-Arnold followed Mark to Iowa, where she completed her General Practice Residency and a certificate and M.S. in Prosthodontics. During that time, she and Mark fell in love with Iowa and they have been here ever since.

In Family Dentistry, Diaz-Arnold is the prosthodontist for the senior clinic, and thus, she sees our dental students grow from fledgling clinicians into competent professionals as she collaborates with other faculty and adjunct faculty members.

As a dental educator, Diaz-Arnold equips students with “the most up-to-date, personal education possible,” helping them develop their own tools for inquiry so that they can become life-long learners, while teaching them what it means to be an ethical and competent practitioner upholding the high standards of the profession with the primary aim of providing personalized, compassionate, and long-lasting care to patients.

Diaz-Arnold sees her role as helping each student “become their best version of themselves,” whether that student sailed through clinics with flying colors or struggled for a time before everything clicked into place. For each of these students will have achieved something impressive at the end of their education.

“Dentistry itself is not easy and on top of that it’s no small feat to run a patient-centered business that has high technology and employee costs while shouldering a huge student loan burden,” Diaz-Arnold explained.
Dental education, however, isn’t just for dental students. The relationship cultivated between adjunct faculty and fulltime faculty is vital to the health and well-being of dental education at Iowa. Diaz-Arnold calls our adjunct faculty “the life blood” of the college.

For Diaz-Arnold, it is most satisfying “when have been practicing a while and they share how they have extended their learning while maintaining the fundamentals that they learned here.”

“There is,” she adds, “no greater feeling than seeing our students become better than us.”

Diaz-Arnold’s story at Iowa wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the list of people who have made a difference in her life, which she recounts with pride:

“Dr. Steve Aquilino’s voice is always in my head with regards to clinical excellence. Dr. Dan Hall (’59 D.D.S., ’74 M.S.) who hired me, envisioned the important roles of females in academia. He understood inclusivity when it wasn’t a thing. Drs. Bill Lavelle (’62 D.D.S., ’67 M.S.), Mike Leary (’68 D.D.S., ’84 M.S.), Forrest Scandrett (’65 D.D.S.) and Vince Williams (’57 D.D.S., ’80 M.S.) showed how to best teach a subject so that students are vested in the outcome. Dr. Patrick Lloyd verified that work never stops. Dr. John Doering (’70 D.D.S., ’76 M.A.) taught me to stick up for myself. Drs. Ron Ettinger and John Keller were research motivators. And, my female colleagues: Drs. Heather Heddens (’80 D.D.S.), Georgia Johnson (’81 D.D.S., ’83 M.S.), Lisa Wilcox (’83 D.D.S., ’86 M.S.) and Deb Zeitler (’78 D.D.S., ’82 M.S.) have been shining examples of smarts, leadership and juggling prowess in terms of work life balance.”

Just as her story is a testament to each of these legacies at Iowa, so Dr. Ana Diaz-Arnold’s story is part of lives of countless students, faculty, and staff. As she retires next summer, she looks forward to spending more time with her three sons and their families, including a 6-month-old grandson, but her legacy and impact at Iowa will be felt long after. It is, thus, a great honor for the University of Iowa Dental Alumni Association and the College of Dentistry to honor Dr. Ana Diaz-Arnold as the 2021 Educator of the Year.