CDM Class of 2020: Ngobitak Ndiwane

May 14, 2020
Ngobitak Ndiwane (photos courtesy of Ngobitak Ndiwane)

For Ngobitak “Gobi” Ndiwane, it was a visit to Honduras as a Brandeis undergraduate that first sparked her interest in dental medicine. During the trip, organized by Brandeis’s Global Medical Brigade, Ndiwane spent a week shadowing several dentists at a clinic. Intrigued by the experience, she sought more exposure to dentistry through the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP, at the time known as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program) at Columbia University.

Ndiwane’s time in SHPEP was transformative, reinforcing her interest in dentistry and leading her to examine and contribute to support structures that aim to bring underrepresented minorities into medical professions. After she matriculated at Columbia University as a DDS/MA dual-degree student at the College of Dental Medicine (CDM) and Teachers College, Ndiwane stayed involved with SHPEP as a teaching assistant. And for her master’s thesis, Ndiwane investigated how working as teaching assistants for SHPEP influenced her peers’ willingness to pursue a career in education or to work with underserved populations. She presented that research at the 2019 American Dental Education Association conference, where her poster won first place out of more than 400 entries in the student poster competition. “That was a huge opportunity being able to showcase to the dental community how dentistry is so intertwined with education.”

Ndiwane with her award-winning research poster at the American Dental Education Association conference

Earlier this year, Ndiwane began an initiative of her own—the Black Mentor Network—to introduce students to different fields and connect them to mentors. “When I came to Columbia for the Summer Health Professions Education Program and met Dr. Mitchell, that was the first time I’d ever met a black dentist,” she said. “I realized that regardless of the field, a lot of students have the same experience: We’re interested in medicine or engineering or education but don’t know any black doctors or black engineers or black teachers, or whatever career. So, I wanted to make a platform where black professionals could help out and provide resources to black students who are interested in whatever career they’re in.”

Ndiwane outside the dental van she worked in during her externship in Clarendon, Jamaica

Throughout her time at CDM, Ndiwane has been drawn to, and taken advantage of, the many opportunities available to broaden her understanding of the circumstances and needs of different people. In her second year, she traveled to Amman, Jordan, with Columbia Global Centers through a Kraft Global Fellowship, a program run by the Office of the University Chaplain to raise intercultural and interfaith awareness. She found the trip enriching in multiple ways, from the cultural education to the public health questions it prompted. “We were learning a lot about refugees and refugee health, so it was interesting to think about dentistry and how the work that I was doing could tie into refugee health and the need of that specific population, and also learning about what access to dental and medical care is like in the Middle East,” she said. Last summer, Ndiwane accepted an externship with the LJDR Davis Foundation to perform restorative and preventative dental care in Clarendon, Jamaica, a community with poor access to dental services.

Ndiwane’s training at CDM has been powerful from both a diversity perspective and an oral health perspective. “We see a lot of patients with very complex dental needs, people from a low-income community, and people who haven’t had much access to dental care previously. A lot of the population is Spanish speaking. We really learn a lot about cultural competency and about the different social and environmental factors that play into oral health care, and especially in terms of systemic disease. I’ll be able to carry that knowledge into residency and enter practice having seen some of the most complex cases.”

In June, Ndiwane will apply, and further extend, her breadth of experience and passion for outreach as she embarks on a general practice residency at Harlem Hospital in New York.


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