Dr. Tracy Wilkerson: 2023 Woman of Achievement
Doctor, mother, philanthropist, and proud Appalachian. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, Dr. Wilkerson recalls growing up in a household where curiosity was encouraged and nourished. As a child, she would constantly quiz her parents about the things she did not know, hoping to one day “know it all.” After high school, her ever-abundant curiosity took her to Vanderbilt University’s engineering department to continue her pursuit of knowledge. As an engineering student, Dr. Wilkerson was committed to working back in her community, taking summer internships with environmental consulting groups in West Virginia. However, after graduation she found she had a change of heart regarding her career goals. Dr. Wilkerson recalls the summer she told her surprised parents she wanted to leave engineering and go to dental school. She had decided to pursue a different path. Still committed to her community and Appalachia, she graduated with her Doctor of Dental Surgery from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry and completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Kentucky. After beginning her practice at Children’s Dentistry, the practice her father founded in 1980, she proudly took over the business started by “Dr. Tom.” This is when Dr. Wilkerson found what she describes as her “superpower.” As a pediatric dentist, she first thought her strength was fixing teeth, creating smiles, and healing toothaches. But she soon realized that she was not only serving her patients but, because of her education and reputation, she could also serve a vital role as an active leader, contributing to her community.
As a business leader, Dr. Wilkerson has also committed herself to improving access for individuals interested in entering the dental field. One of her proudest achievements is creating the Thomas Wilkerson Scholarship, inspired by her late father for whom the scholarship is named. The award aims to provide financial assistance to former patients who are interested in pursuing education in the dental profession. From dentists to dental hygienists, Dr. Wilkerson strives to support her former patients as they begin their careers. She is often asking her patients, “Now that you have the smile of a dentist, would you consider being one?”
Representation matters. In a field that is often mistakenly thought to be dominated by males, the gender divide in dentistry is decreasing; however, it was not always so narrow. While she recalls a “50/50” male-female ratio in her dental school cohort, almost all her instructors were male. Today, Children's Dentistry happens to have an all-female staff. “I want all my employees to see this as a career and be able to stand on their own. I am surrounded by strong, independent women every day and want to do my part to encourage those qualities in my employees.” This is not to dissuade any men looking to enter the dental field because she certainly supports anyone interested in dentistry, as long as “acts of service can be your love language,” she says.
As a dentist, Dr. Wilkerson knows a visit to the dentist is often the last thing a child wants to do. In addition, fear around visiting the dentist can be generational; that is why she creates an environment that helps both parents and children feel comfortable and makes a personal connection with her as a caregiver. As a mother, Dr. Wilkerson understands the importance of showing genuine care and concern when it comes to the child and the parent. She remarks that “to help children, I also have to help the parents.”
Wilkerson’s dedication to improving the lives of children goes far beyond her work as a dentist. As a supporter of organizations such as the Clay Center and YWCA Charleston, she looks for groups with which she can connect. “I support groups that share similar missions and interests; there are so many wonderful groups that help children's lives,” she says. By seeking out ways to improve the community by empowering women and children, she enjoys working closely with the YWCA and others in Charleston and looks forward to many more years of commitment to these causes. It can often be difficult to find the time to be involved with so many different organizations, between running a business and caring for a household of three children. Nevertheless, Dr. Wilkerson is constantly looking to extend her help, motivated by the idea, “If you give, you get.”
When thinking about the various projects Dr. Wilkerson has been involved with over the years, one specific act of
service comes to mind. In 2018, she and her family went to Arcahaie, Haiti, on a mission trip. During the trip, she was able to provide dental care for the residents of a small Haitian village, most of whom were living with little access to water or electricity. Her family returned to that village later in 2019, to provide basic medical care and support to the community. Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest in Haiti, additional travel to the region has not been possible. However, she says that her family looks forward to a return to the village in hopes to continue to provide support to those without access to basic needs and dental care.
Dr. Wilkerson wants to inspire those who do not take the “standard path.” As a dentist who started out with a degree in civil engineering, she knows that one's destination is not always determined by their first step. She hopes everyone finds a job or career that is “rewarding,” and hopes to help guide others to find their purpose. Education is one of her core focuses, and she believes a good education can help in every aspect of life.
The story of Dr. Wilkerson is that of a little girl in Charleston, constantly propelled by her own curiosity, dedicated to becoming a business leader, mentor, and doctor. However, the rest of her story is yet to be written. By dedicating her life to her family, career, and community, she has truly become a woman of achievement.