Ernest Goodson, DDS, MPA, Resident Alum ‘84, says the best thing that ever happened to him was being raised by his grandparents in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His grandfather could not read or write and his grandmother, Mrs. Willie Ree Thompson, only had a sixth-grade education, but she had high hopes for Goodson.

“My grandmother always said she wanted me to go to college," Goodson says. “But if she was around today, I think she’d probably say I overdid it.”

Goodson took his grandmother’s advice seriously. After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he earned a place at the UNC School of Dentistry.

“I had never met a black dentist in my life,” says Goodson. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be a dentist for sure, but I decided to give it a shot. I worked hard and did the best I could.”

Immediately out of dental school, Goodson went abroad to serve a year-long fellowship in dental surgery at the University of London. Initially, Goodson wasn’t sure which specialty of dentistry interested him the most – surgery or orthodontics. But after spending a summer at Mount Sinai Hospital of Cleveland for a surgery externship he realized that he found it hard to stand without back pain for the number of hours required to perform a one-jaw surgical procedure. So he opted for orthodontics. He completed a two-year residency in orthodontics at UCSF.

After more than two decades in dentistry, Goodson enrolled at Harvard University’s Ken­nedy School of Government, completing a Master’s in Public Administration in 2002. He has published several academic papers and is currently researching the role Afri­can American dentists have played in civil rights and orthodontics. Indeed, he has an interview planned in Atlanta with former mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young and his brother, Walter. Their father practiced dentistry in New Orleans. In February, he lectured at the John D. Fuller Center in West Fayetteville about early black dental pioneers in North Carolina as part of Black History Month exhibits.

Taking care of people less fortunate than himself is something Goodson has done throughout his career. From 1997 to 2010 he volunteered at the Fayetteville Care Clinic every month, serving low income and uninsured dental patients. He has provided free dental services in more than twenty mission clinics in North Carolina. He has also completed missions with the Medical Ministries International to Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Malawi providing dental care in poor rural areas. He is preparing now to travel to Liberia for dental mission work. He also lobbies Congress to pass legislation that might make dental care more affordable and to not tax dental devices so highly, because he worries the higher cost will be passed on to the patient.

“I get real pleasure knowing I did something that's going to make someone's life a little more comfortable and more pleasant,” says Goodson. That can mean advocating for affordable dental care or traveling across the world to extract a tooth.

Goodson is following in the footsteps of other trailblazing African American dentists who have a rich history of making a contribution to society. He has also been working with libraries around the country and the Cumberland County Headquarters Library & Public Information Center for the past decade or so to illuminate the work of the first African American dental leaders in his state and community.

Ernest Goodson won a 2019 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Compassionate” category. The award honors those whose work is marked by boundless empathy, understanding, and caring within health care or science.

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