LaJuan Hall, DDS ’94 : Helping patients shine beyond their smiles
The UCSF Dental Alumni Association Board of Directors is honored to announce the 2023 Medal of Honor recipient: LaJuan Hall, DDS ’94.
Devotion to dental work has taken LaJuan Hall, DDS ’94, to the highest levels of her field in practice, leadership, and mentorship.
Yet she considers her real success to be going beyond the dental needs of her pediatric patients and their families and serving their hearts and minds long after they were children in her chair.
“That’s been probably the main driver for me as a dentist – not so much the actual work of dentistry, but the influence you have on children as a pediatric dentist,” says Hall, who is receiving the UCSF Dental School’s Medal of Honor this spring. “I’ve been really blessed. Every day when I go to work, I have the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life – and not just with their smile.”
Throughout her career, she has sought to provide comfort and support in any way possible for children and their families. That might mean simple things like singing to lighten what can be an anxious experience for young patients, a tactic inspired by her own childhood dentist. Songs from the Frozen soundtrack are favorites.
“It’s pretty calming because a lot of kids are apprehensive when they go to the dentist,” she says. “By turning it into something like a mini-Disneyland experience, they feel more comfortable.”
In conversations with patients, she also does much more than ask what they want to do when they grow up – she has helped them become whatever their goal is by providing career guidance and even helping some through the college application process.
Dedication to Community
Born in Los Angeles, Hall was the eldest of four children. Her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father was among the city’s first Black aeronautical engineers. He passed on his mathematical and scientific prowess to his children. Her parents insisted on higher education for their children, whose professional fields also include pediatric psychiatry and software development.
Hall graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills with a BS in biology and a BA in communications. She followed the latter path at first, working as a contestant coordinator for Chuck Barris, creator of The Dating Game and The Gong Show. But dissatisfaction with that work drove her to a “career course correction,” she says.
She had eyed becoming a dentist early on, after a career-day visit to her middle school by Edmond Hewlett, DDS, now a professor and the associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion at UCLA School of Dentistry. She calls him “my first mentor-slash-influencer.”
She herself chose UCSF’s dental school, due to its stellar reputation but also its “strong program in terms of community health,” she says. She got involved in student government and served on the infection control committee when the AIDS crisis was prompting the development of new safety protocols and dentists were just beginning to wear gloves during procedures.
“When I was a student, almost all of my classmates had at least one patient with AIDS,” she says. “It was a humbling experience.”
Hall gravitated to pediatric dentistry in part because of its embrace of female clinicians. Among her UCSF mentors was Deborah Greenspan, DSc, BDS, chair emerita and a professor emerita in the UCSF Department of Orofacial Sciences. “She was a very positive role model of a strong woman, though she may not have realized what an influence she was,” Hall says.
She spent most of her residency in Fairfield, California, near Travis Air Force Base, a good fit after serving during college as a U.S. Army Reservist.
In 1999, a UCSF instructor approached Hall about taking over an established practice serving Brentwood and Antioch in San Francisco’s East Bay, an area with many young families and thus a great place for a pediatrics practice.
“It was a huge blessing because there was so much growth,” she says. “It’s just a really nice community. I ended up settling there, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Her dental practice would become home base for her remarkable career.
Prioritizing Connection and Leadership
Hall recently married fellow dentist Michael Schneider, DDS, whose practice is in Manhattan Beach, just two blocks from the office of her singing childhood dentist. With him came a stepson, a stepdaughter, and eventually a granddaughter, whom Hall calls “the love of my life.”
Hall has served in various leadership positions in the California Dental Association, worked as volunteer member of the UCSF faculty, and served on various boards and committees at the University.
Since 2014, she has been a member of the board of directors of the American College of Dentists (ACD) Northern California Section, and she will soon begin a two-year term as board chair. Her plans as chair include seeking to make permanent some of the telehealth practices that emerged during the pandemic, as she believes they can play an important and inclusive role even in such a hands-on field.
Hall calls receiving the UCSF School of Dentistry Medal of Honor “the high point of my career.”
One of the colleagues who nominated her said her career has exemplified the four pillars of the ACD. “Dr. Hall has contributed to advancing excellence, ethics, professionalism, and leadership in dentistry,” wrote Pamela Alston, DDS ’82.
Yet Hall reflects the credit back on her many teachers and mentors. “I think it’s more of a tribute to all the people who influenced me,” she says. “It really gives me a sense of pride in all the connections and friends and amazing sources of knowledge that I received and was able to give back.”