The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has named Valli Meeks, DDS, MS, RDH, the winner of its 2020 William J. Gies Award for Achievement—Dental Educator. Meeks is a clinical professor in the Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD).
The honor, which salutes professionals who significantly advance oral health and dental education, is part of the William J. Gies Awards for Vision and Achievement.
“I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that this is a national award from such a prominent dental organization recognizing me for what I think of as just doing my job,” Meeks said. “But it also galvanizes me to try to improve and do it even better.”
For just over three decades, Meeks has served as director of UMSOD’s PLUS Clinic, the state’s first dental clinic for Marylanders with HIV and AIDS who have no insurance. Established in 1989, the clinic remains Baltimore’s primary facility to provide comprehensive oral health services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV and AIDS.
“I am extremely pleased and proud that Dr. Meeks’ tireless efforts on behalf of those living with HIV are being recognized with this prestigious national award,” said Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, UMSOD dean and professor.
“She has significantly improved oral healthcare for people living with HIV/AIDS, increased understanding of HIV/AIDS among oral health students and professionals, and contributed to the quality of life for many,” said Reynolds.
In 2013, Meeks also teamed up with the University of Maryland School of Medicine Institute of Human Virology’s JACQUES Initiative to introduce HIV testing in UMSOD clinics to identify, educate, and refer HIV-positive patients for needed care through the Preparing the Future academic interprofessional program.
In collaboration with her colleagues, Meeks worked to amend the predoctoral dental and dental hygiene curricula to include competency in offering routine HIV testing and linkage to healthcare as well as identification of issues that lead to disparities in healthcare delivery.
As clinical trainer for the MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center, Meeks established the PLUS Clinic as a regional center for the diagnosis and treatment of oral lesions associated with HIV disease.
In partnership with the Rwandan Minister of Health and Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Meeks also helped launch a bachelor of dental surgery program at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences. It is the only dental school in Rwanda to offer a BDS degree, and the class of 2018 was its first graduating class.
Known internationally as an expert on people living with HIV, Meeks has given presentations in Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom, among other countries.
In 2010, Meeks received the Faculty of the Year Award from the UMSOD’s Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences. In 2016, she received a University System of Maryland Regents’ Faculty Award for Public Service. In 2018, she was named a University of Maryland, Baltimore Founders Week Public Servant of the Year.
There is still much to be done, Meeks said, including continuing to spread the message, particularly to youths, that HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease.
“Prevention of new cases of HIV is our number one strategy for ending the epidemic locally. Getting the message to young adults and adolescents, as well as to those at risk for acquiring HIV, that HIV is preventable is a top priority,” she said.