A new $25,000 endowed scholarship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center named in memory of an alumnus of both the School of Health Related Professions and the School of Dentistry who was a beloved dental hygiene instructor for many years will help attract and retain top dental hygiene students in SHRP.
Established by her family, friends and husband, Mike Barkett, president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation of Ridgeland, the Linda S. Barkett, D.M.D., Endowed Dental Hygiene Scholarship will provide support to deserving dental hygiene students at UMMC.
“Because of her long service to UMMC and the dental hygiene program, we wanted to do something to honor Linda's commitment to dental hygiene, the profession of dentistry and the students in the dental hygiene program,” Mike Barkett said. “I'd like the recipients (of the award) to know about her, about her passion for dentistry and dental hygiene, her passion for education and what the values she tried to impart to her students.
“I'd particularly like for them to know of her love and dedication to her profession and to her patients.”
Dr. Linda Barkett received her B.S. in biological science from Mississippi State University and worked as a sanitarian at the State Board of Health before enrolling in SHRP's Dental Hygiene Program at UMMC. She earned her certificate in dental hygiene and taught in the Dental Hygiene Program until August 1980, when she left SHRP to prepare for dental school.
“She was determined – she loved education,” said her longtime colleague Dr. Beckie Barry, professor of dental hygiene, who initially took Barkett's place on the SHRP faculty. “She loved teaching, and she was all about working with students and watching them grow and develop.”
Barkett earned her DMD from UMMC in 1984 and entered private practice with her dental partner, Dr. Betsy Welch, at the Lakeland Dental Clinic.
“Linda was one of the first women to be accepted into the dental school and then was one of four to graduate in her class,” Barkett said. “She was one of the pioneers that dared to venture into that realm. She was well-respected and well-received by her counterparts.
“She just loved the profession of dentistry and was so dedicated to her patients. If she saw them one day, she would call them that night to make sure they were OK. They weren't just patients – they were friends to her.”
While establishing her practice, Linda Barkett taught part-time in SHRP's Dental Hygiene Program.
“She loved histology, clinical-based and rural dentistry, and while with us, she did dental coverage with our clinical patients,” Barry said. “She was dedicated to her profession – both the dental hygiene and dentistry sides – and to the educational component.”
She left the SHRP faculty in 1990 to work on her dental practice and to devote more time to her daughter, Katherine. A decade later, when Barry became chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene, she called upon Barkett to see if her friend wouldn't consider returning to the school as a part-time instructor.
“I just asked her if she would start teaching again part-time, and she didn't hesitate,” Barry said. “After that long span when she wasn't teaching, I think she realized she did miss it.
“Ask any student – they loved her. I think the only reason she didn't win the Nelson Order of Teaching Excellence (UMMC's top recognition of outstanding educators among its faculty) is because she was part-time.”
Although diagnosed in 2009 with the breast cancer that would eventually claim her life, Barkett remained on the SHRP faculty throughout her illness. Barry said the dedication to her students Barkett demonstrated during her battle with cancer was nothing less than inspiring.
“She would have chemo on a Monday and then work with us the rest of the week,” Barry said. “She had an impact on so many students who watched her professional demeanor while she was dealing with the breast cancer. She never gave up, and her words energized so many students.”
Barkett died on June 1 from complications of metastatic breast cancer. Not only had she provided top-quality care for the hundreds of patients she treated throughout her 27-year career practicing dentistry, she also influenced generations of dental hygiene students through her skill and dedication to teaching.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked individuals to make a contribution to the scholarship.
“We had no idea that we would receive this kind of response,” Mike Barkett said. “When we had the funeral, I couldn't tell you the number of students and former students who came back and said what an impact she had in their lives. It's so humbling to see how many people responded.”
According to her longtime colleague and friend, the most difficult aspect of the new scholarship will be its selection process.
“The hardest part is going to be establishing the criteria and qualifications for the recipient,” Barry said. “She's just the epitome of what you would want in dental hygiene. It's kind of like when you have a teacher who you may not have loved at first, but when you look back you always remember what she did for you in school – that was her.
“It's going to be hard to find someone who has all the qualities that Linda had."
For more information about the Linda S. Barkett, D.M.D., Endowed Dental Hygiene Scholarship, e-mail Sheila Henderson in the UMMC Office of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bruce Coleman