Exposure to Diversity Creates a More Empathetic Practitioner

Editor’s Note:

Save the dates and join the fun for Rebel Homecoming Oct. 8-15! Among the many events is the Annual Alumni Awards dinner, which recognizes exceptional individuals who represent the ideals of higher learning and Rebel pride. Here’s one of this year’s honorees.

Dr. Evelyn Herrera

’07 BS Biology, ’16 Doctor of Dental Medicine
School of Dental Medicine Alumna of the Year

The UNLV School of Dental Medicine could not have selected a more appropriate person to honor as its Alumna of the Year, as Dr. Evelyn Herrera embodies everything that’s inherent in the dental school’s mission.

As a compassionate healthcare provider, she is dedicated to her community and provides top-notch dental care in and out of her office. Herrera’s community commitment was on full display when she chose to open her full-service practice in the same east Las Vegas neighborhood where she grew up — an area that has long lacked access to quality medical and dental care.

Passionate about giving back? It’s difficult to know where to begin. A few examples of Herrera’s staunch commitment to helping others include: 

  • She has provided free dental care to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, as well as through We Serve Day events.
  • She has visited local elementary schools in order to teach kids about the importance of oral health and provide them with free dental supplies.
  • In 2020, she hosted Give a Kid a Smile, which offers free dental care to any pediatric patient from the community.
  • During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she kept her practice open, welcoming not only existing patients but also those who couldn’t get care at their usual dental offices because those offices were closed.

It’s not just patients in need who benefit from Herrera’s benevolence, but also those who aspire to follow in her footsteps. Over the years, the good doctor has spoken at UNLV School of Dental Medicine-sponsored events, mentored pre-dental students, and offered job-shadowing opportunities at her practice.

In fact, Herrera’s most recent mentee started at the dental school this fall, and earlier this year, she hired a fellow Rebel graduate to join her practice.

“Helping others is what attracted me to the dental field in the first place, so I consider mentoring, pro bono work, and volunteering perks of the job,” says Herrera, who was the 2016 recipient of the Joel E. Glover General Dentistry scholarship. “So, naturally, I’m eager to pay forward what my mentors did for me and help pre-dental students avoid pitfalls in their early academic careers.”

When did you realize dentistry was a career you wanted to pursue?

I interned at a dental office while still in high school, shadowing a dentist. I quickly realized that she had developed meaningful relationships with her patients and had a real impact on their quality of life. Whether alleviating pain, implementing cosmetic procedures, or simply interacting empathetically with patients, I saw she had the power to significantly improve lives. 

It left quite an impression on me as a teenager. I knew then that I wanted to pursue dentistry. 

Was it always your plan to attend dental school at UNLV?

Las Vegas has always been home, so as soon as I became interested in dentistry, UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine was my top choice. It was challenging as expected, but I learned from incredible mentors and had a great clinical experience. Not only was I provided plenty of clinical hours, but I also was given the opportunity to gain experience in specialties, such as oral surgery and endodontics, that few other dental programs offer. 

Why did you choose to open your practice in your east Las Vegas backyard?

East Las Vegas is generally an underserved community with a large Spanish-speaking population, so it was important to me to open a practice where residents felt comfortable and understood. Many of my own family members see language as a barrier to adequate health care, so I’ve always wanted to serve patients who have shared such experiences. 

I truly consider it a blessing to have the opportunity to open a practice in my community.

UNLV is located in one of the world’s most dynamic, diverse, and innovative cities. How did that impact you as a student, and how have you been able to leverage that benefit professionally? 

While at UNLV, I was fortunate to interact with an incredibly diverse student population and develop friendships with students from backgrounds vastly different than my own. It’s hard to describe just how much I learned from these relationships, because they provided insights into cultural subtleties that can only be understood through experience. 

These insights have allowed me to develop positive relationships with a diverse patient population. Particularly when educating patients about oral hygiene, being culturally sensitive is highly relevant. Having those experiences at UNLV has made a huge difference.

UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace the “Rebel Spirit” — that is, to be daring and gutsy and to resist convention. Describe a time when your “Rebel Spirit” was on display.

As the COVID-19 pandemic peaked, I had to navigate numerous challenges, both as a business owner and a dentist. As my practice was in its very early stages, I had every reason to simply close up shop. 

I had to deal with implementing numerous protective measures against COVID-19, as well as staff shortages, the concerns of weary patients and several financial setbacks. But, buoyed by that “Rebel Spirit,” I knew I had to persevere. I did, and the practice is now, fortunately, thriving.


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