Chair selected for Dept. of Primary Dental Care

Dr. Sheila Riggs took over on Feb. 16.

Aside from lecturing students and performing research, the newly-hired chair of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Department of Primary Dental Care said, in her new job, she will strive to keep the community informed about their dental health. âÄúWe often need to take education out of the classroom and meet citizens where they are, rather than always asking them to come in to us,âÄù the new chair, Dr. Sheila Riggs, said. On Feb. 16, Patrick Lloyd , dean of the School of Dentistry, named Riggs chair of the Department of Primary Dental Care, a position he said is critical in integrating the departmentâÄôs different roles into a cohesive network.

Dr. Sheila Riggs.

âÄúHer administrative experience in health care delivery models will be invaluable to our faculty and students as we explore new approaches to patient care,âÄù Lloyd said. As chair of the department, Riggs will take a frontline role in educating dental and dental hygiene students, as well as maintaining several regional community outreach clinics operated by the School of Dentistry. Dental and dental hygiene students are required to treat patients within the clinics as part of their service-learning experience. âÄúIt really gives them a taste for what the career would be like,âÄù Riggs said. Paige Anderson , a senior in the dental hygiene program, said working in a community clinic gave her a wealth of experience. She currently works at a community clinic in Willmar, Minn. âÄúItâÄôs just great because itâÄôs so diverse in these rural areas and theyâÄôre really in need,âÄù she said. âÄúIt just is nice to know that we make a difference in their lives because a lot of dentists in these areas donâÄôt take Medicaid.âÄù Before coming to the University, Riggs spent three years serving as CEO and president of Delta Dental of Minnesota, a dental insurance provider for more than 8,400 Minnesota-based employer groups. She has also been a faculty member at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. Riggs has held leadership positions with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa and the Wellmark Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving the health of Iowans and South Dakotans. In 2003, the governor of Iowa appointed Riggs to lead Healthy Iowans 2010, a statewide program that collects data and creates goals for improving the health of Iowans. In addition to participating in several statewide, regional and national health care policy think tanks, Riggs also served as founding director of the Iowa Free Dental Clinic in Ames, Iowa. After earning her doctorate of dental surgery from the University of Iowa, Riggs received a masterâÄôs degree and a doctorate of medical sciences in epidemiology from Harvard University. Riggs said she is most excited about the overall mission of the School of Dentistry. âÄúItâÄôs just such a great model; imbedded in it is this team concept of teaching students,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs very similar to how they will practice once they are out.âÄù The primary dental care department, created about a year and a half ago, had been looking for a chair since its establishment, a position filled in the meantime by an interim chair, Lloyd said. Since the position had been open long before the University-wide hiring freeze, he said he was able to proceed with the hire. Anderson said it will be important for Riggs to be a leader within the School of Dentistry. âÄúYou really have to be able to keep up and also to have an open-door policy for students to help make changes,âÄù she said.