When it comes to kids, they’ve got them covered. Dr. Antonio Braithwaite is a pediatric dentist who opened his private practice, Sanford Pediatric Dentistry, in rural Lee County because there was not a pediatric dentist within a four-county area.
Dr. Mary Braithwaite is a pediatrician at Chapel Hill Pediatrics in Chapel Hill. Together, their work touches many lives early on and makes a lasting impression.
And that’s just how they want it to be.
“It’s very gratifying that our professions fit so well with our interests to not only help kids get a better, healthier start earlier in life, but also contribute to the goal of improving public health overall,” they said. “You can do that with early intervention and prevention in concert with the latest therapeutic techniques. Improving general public health is essential, and it starts with preventing adult problems in childhood.”
The quintessential Carolina power couple, they hold six UNC degrees between them (Antonio, B.S.P.H. ’01, D.D.S. ’05 and M.P.H. ’07; Mary, A.B. ’02, M.S.P.H. ’06 and M.D. ’07). Between their thriving practices and their own family, they are busy people.
But they still find ways to support and stay involved with their alma mater. “It’s so important to us to be involved in and support the areas and programs that helped us pursue our ambitions and realize our goals,” Mary Braithwaite said. “That’s really what drives our volunteerism as well as our philanthropy.”
The couple supports areas in the Gillings School of Global Public Health as well as the schools of dentistry and medicine, specifically scholarships and programs that support and encourage underserved and underrepresented minorities in the pursuit of health-care education. They give to the medical school’s Loyalty Fund Scholarships, the Alumni Reconnect Campaign, the Medical Education Development Program and the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, among others. They also support the dental school’s Old North State Dental Society Scholarships, the Pediatric Dentistry Graduate Fund endowment as well as the School of Public Health Foundation.
Both are alumni of UNC’s Science Enrichment Preparation Program (SEP), an eight-week, honors-level academic enrichment program for disadvantaged undergraduate students seeking admission into graduate/health professional programs. SEP is a program of the North Carolina Health Careers Access Program (NC-HCAP), which aims to grow the health-care workforce by engendering and increasing interest in health careers among young people before college and providing students with opportunities to improve their competitiveness for admission into health professional schools.
“When you go through programs like these that give you the support, tools and resources to change the direction of your entire life, you want to say ‘Thank You’ in a very tangible, demonstrative way,” they said. “We are fortunate to have had that opportunity, and we certainly want others to have those opportunities as well.”
Antonio Braithwaite first became acquainted with SEP as an undergraduate ambassador and served as president of the group as a senior. He said that was really when he began to consider a health-related field. “I was a shy kid from the Queens-Brooklyn area with crooked teeth,” Antonio Braithwaite said. “Getting braces changed my life, boosted my self-esteem, helped me be more outgoing and opened the door to a career path that I hadn’t considered before. SEP is very much like that.”
“When you go through programs like these that give you the support, tools and resources to change the direction of your entire life, you want to say ‘Thank You’ in a very tangible, demonstrative way.”
Braithwaite said SEP also allowed him to bond with other minorities with similar goals, providing peer support.
For Mary, the program gave her the confidence to know she had what it took to get into medical school, be successful and graduate. “There certainly no physicians in my family and I hadn’t really seen the practical, hands-on side of the profession,” she said. “SEP brought the academic rigor and the practical introduction to the field that really paints a much clearer picture of what it’s really like.”
The couple also feels strongly that leadership is built from service. Antonio has served in many capacities on campus, including the Board of Visitors, the Public Health Foundation Board and the dental school admissions committee.
“Like watching the children we care for grow and thrive, we are just as excited to see talented minority men and women exploring all facets of healthcare and learning about themselves as well,” they said. “We want to serve as that role model and give hope and encouragement to that little boy or girl who wants to become a physician or dentist but thinks they can’t.”
Thanks to the Braithwaites and programs like NC-HCAP, they certainly can.
By Hope Baptiste