Julie Gray, DDS, MA
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
Assistant Professor of Restorative Dentistry
School of Dentistry Meharry Medical College
Growing up just outside of Houston, Julie Gray wasn't sure what path her career would take, but she knew having a servant's heart demanded she find a way to help people. "I knew that would likely be through a career in healthcare pretty early on in my life, but I didn't always know I wanted to be a dentist," she said.
Completing her undergraduate degree but still unsure about medical school, Gray accepted a teaching job in Houston. "Teaching is part of my bloodline," she explained, adding her grandmother taught school for 43 years. A routine trip for a teeth cleaning changed everything when her family dentist suggested she explore a summer program at the University of Texas School of Dentistry. "My whole perspective changed, and I realized I wanted to be a dentist," Gray said.
Following her dream led to Nashville. "When I first came to Meharry as a graduate student, Dr. William Davis and Dr. Sandra Harris became two of my mentors," noted Gray. "I was a non-traditional student after teaching school for three years, and they both saw something in me throughout the admissions process and helped me believe in myself." Gray added that early vote of confidence has made a lasting impact throughout her career as she has accepted new challenges.
One of the first hurdles was realizing not everyone enjoyed going to the dentist. "I loved, loved my family dentist," Gray said. But it didn't take long to learn not everyone shared her enthusiasm. "I honestly had no idea people avoided going to the dentist until I began my clinical rotations in school. The first person I ever saw as a patient looked at me from my chair and said, 'I hate you.' She didn't even know my name!" Gray recalled. What she quickly realized, though, was that the patient didn't hate her at all ... just past dental experiences. "I had the opportunity to change that."
After completing residency, Gray went into private practice. While still in school, she had met another young dental student from the Houston area - Phillip Gray II, DDS - who would become her husband. By 2005, the couple opened Gray Dental Care, PC, which her husband continues to lead.
Although she has always loved hands-on care, Gray was excited when Meharry approached her about teaching part-time. She thought about the passion her grandmother had brought to the classroom and remembered her mentor Dr. Davis saying he could see her as a teacher. By 2013, she was ready to step into this new role on a full-time basis.
"I love my students and their love for learning ... it's contagious," she said of their enthusiasm for the ever-evolving field of dentistry. "I love to serve the community through Meharry's mission and to teach my students exactly what it means to be a good dentist." Gray noted there are plenty of talented students who can learn the necessary skills, but she tells them knowledge isn't enough. "Anybody can do the science of dentistry ... that's the simplest part. Caring and loving people is the art. And if you can't perfect the art, your chair will always be empty."
Passionate about training the next generation to be compassionate and empathetic, Gray doesn't sugarcoat the challenges for providers or patients. She advises students, "Know that the underserved, elderly, vulnerable and minority communities among us are often forgotten in this healthcare system. We have an obligation to take care of those people in our society."
Her dedication to the field has won the respect of both students and colleagues. Gray has been recognized with several teaching honors, including the 'Student's Choice Award.' Most recently, she was accepted into the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, graduating last October. Gray's leadership skills led to her being chosen to spearhead Meharry's charge to create and staff one of the city's COVID-19 Community Assessment Centers.
While she is deeply invested in her work, Gray never loses sight of her priorities. "I'm a wife, a mother, a daughter and then a dentist - in that order," she explained. Daughter Jillian just finished her first year at Rhodes College, where she is part of the track and field team and considering a career as a physician. Son Phillip is a rising junior at Ensworth where he loves playing football. "Like any American family, we stay so busy with our children's activities," she noted with a laugh.
Whether raising children or the next generation of dentists, Gray hopes her legacy is to instill in them a servant's heart so that everyone she touches will go out and touch the lives of others.