How one doctor is blessing the dental community and giving back
Dr. Rico Short was always proficient at math and science but growing up as a child from a working-class family in south Ga., the idea of becoming a doctor was far from his mind. “Nobody in my family went to college, owned a business or had a professional career. We were just everyday working-class people.” It was a school counselor that suggested Dr. Short join a mentoring program that paired him with a local dentist, but not just any dentist: “That was my first time ever seeing an African American doctor,” he recalls. When his mentor asked him what he might like to do, “make some money and be successful” was Dr. Short’s typical response. “It feels superficial now,” Dr. Short said, “But when he pulled up to our house in a brand-new Lexus SC400, I was amazed…dentistry got my attention.” Dr. Short would soon find that dentistry had greater rewards than nice cars, but at the time it was the motivation the young student needed to start his journey on the path to dentistry.
From there, Dr. Short spent his summers during high school helping out in his mentor’s office and participating in other science-based programs that prepared him for the rigors of college and dental school. It was in undergrad that another mentor encouraged him to complete his program in three years instead of four. It wasn’t easy: “I was a pretty serious college student; my priorities were my education and to get into dental school. I wanted to break the poverty cycle in my family.” His dedication paid off when he completed his undergrad degree early and was accepted to the Dental College of Georgia (DCG).
Dr. Short and his mentor, Dr. Hadley Setting an Example for the Community After graduating, Dr. Short returned to his hometown of Columbus, Ga., to practice general dentistry. Having grown up with so few role models who looked like him, it was important to Dr. Short to set an example for young people in his community, just as his mentor had done all those years before. “You never know who you’re mentoring because you never know who’s watching you.” But it turns out, just by being his authentic self, Dr. Short later found there were several local high school students who followed his same path, even attending the same undergrad and going to dental school to also become dentists. “More people were watching than I realized.”
But soon it was time to grow. His mentor encouraged Dr. Short to pursue endodontics, so it was back to school at Nova Southeastern University. This time after graduating, he settled just outside of Atlanta and opened his own practice, which has been in business for 19 years. “It’s amazing. I didn't take any business classes and no one in my family owned a business but now I balance the clinical side of dentistry with being a business owner.”
Investing in the Future
Firmly established, Dr. Short sought ways to give back to the dental community. Throughout his career, he had been blessed with mentors who believed in him, and he had a strong will to be the first in his family to attend college and graduate—but it was not without its challenges, like being the only Black male student in his class at DCG, which often came with an extra layer of scrutiny. That’s why, six years ago, Dr. Short started a scholarship at his alma mater for minority dental students who had proven themselves academically but needed the extra financial boost to help them achieve their goals. Dr. Short started by contributing to the scholarship out of his own pocket but was advised that an endowment could keep the scholarship going for longer. Now, along with Dr. Short, generous donors also contribute to the endowment to see more minority dental students succeed. If you would like to support the endowment, click here.
But it’s always been more than about money, Dr. Short is eager to connect with these students. “At first, I would just send a check, but then came the request for my presence—the students wanted to see me and talk with me.” This is where he realized he could make the most impact, not just the donation but as the person behind the donation. So, in addition to simply visiting the school to present the scholarship, Dr. Short shares his contact information to the recipient so they can engage with him with questions, about dentistry or about navigating life.
Today, Dr. Short has come a long way from the high schooler only interested in luxury cars and nice houses. He is the first to tell you what really matters: It’s about heart and investing in others the same way his mentors invested in him. He attributes his ability to give back not just to his years of experience and thriving practice, but also to his strong faith and the role models he was blessed with throughout his life. Today, in addition to saving teeth, Dr. Short’s goal is to be a mentor and role model for the next generation of dentists and set them up for success on their journey.