Cherae Farmer-Dixon, DDS, MSPH
Dean and Professor | School of Dentistry
Meharry Medical College
As a high school junior in the Mississippi Delta, Cherae Farmer-Dixon attended a health careers summer program at Tougaloo College and immediately became intrigued with dentistry.
After finishing her undergraduate degree at Mississippi Valley State University close to home, she headed to Nashville and Meharry’s School of Dentistry to turn her dream into a reality. Thoughts of full-time practice changed once she realized how passionate she was about academic dentistry, public health and research.
She credits her mentor, Rueben Warren, DDS, PhD, who was dean of the School of Dentistry when Farmer-Dixon was a student, with igniting her interests. “I worked for him as a research assistant and became interested in public health dentistry and access to care in rural areas,” she said, adding the subject hit close to home. “I learned from him that dentistry is not just about teeth but encompasses overall health, accessibility, availability and acceptability.”
As a result, she went on to earn a master’s degree in public health, pursue an academic dental career, become widely published on a number of research topics and provide dental services in underserved areas. Really, she noted, she has the best of all worlds. Not only does she have the satisfaction of practicing in a field she loves, she said, “but more importantly, I have the joy of training … every year … approximately 230 students.”
Like many academic leaders, Farmer-Dixon thrives on that interaction with students. She relishes sharing what she has learned over two decades of teaching and practicing dentistry … and she is equally excited to see what the students will teach her. “Each class brings new dynamics that allow me to continue to learn and to appreciate them and the opportunity that we have to impact each other’s lives,” she noted.
Paying it forward, Farmer-Dixon is happy to mentor students striving for excellence and young faculty carving out career paths and focusing on professional development. She has also taken a leadership role in the larger dental community. Farmer-Dixon currently serves as national vice president of the American Association of Women Dentists and founded the student chapter of the organization at Meharry.
As a female dentist, dean, professor, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, and working mother, Farmer-Dixon said she hopes she is also a living example of the rewards of hard work and dedication. It’s an example she tries to set not only for her students … but for her own children, as well.
Son Gardner Dixon is a junior at Father Ryan High School and a basketball player on the varsity team. Daughter Tyler Dixon, 19, is a freshman at MTSU majoring in English/pre-law. “I’m hoping to convince her to cross over,” Farmer-Dixon said teasingly of trying to get Tyler to consider the health sciences.
“As with most mothers, my life revolves around my family so every available moment I have is spent with them … even moments I don’t ‘have,’” she said of her children.
Bringing all her roles together — mother, dentist, teacher, public health champion — has served as an impetus for Farmer-Dixon to lead research on oral health disparities, caries in low-income children, and community outreach and interventions. She has championed Meharry’s mission to take the oral health message into the community. Faculty and students spearhead a number of outreach programs, as well as provide screenings at Meharry 12 South Community Clinic and comprehensive care for children and targeted adult populations in partnership with the Montgomery County Health Department.
Named dean last July, Farmer-Dixon has been on faculty at Meharry Medical College for almost 24 years. Previously, she served as associate dean for Academic & Student Affairs and is a past chair of the admissions committee, which has provided her the opportunity to see each class blossom over the course of four years. Watching new students transform into passionate, highly competent, caring professionals during their time at Meharry never ceases to thrill Farmer-Dixon and give her a reason to smile.