Kay H. Malone, DDS, FAGD, is too modest to consider himself much of an influencer in the profession of dentistry. However, generations of underrepresented dental students may argue that point as they follow the example he has set.
Just this month, Dr. Malone, a UT Health San Antonio clinical assistant professor, Class of 1983 alumnus and retired Army dentist, stepped down as the School of Dentistry’s director of admissions, a post he said has been fulfilling.
A self-proclaimed “military brat,” Dr. Malone was born in Huntsville, Texas, but grew up on military bases worldwide. At the age of 17 he had a biking accident, resulting in a traumatic buccal plate fracture that triggered his interest in the dental profession. Impressed by his on-call orthodontist’s ability to manage the trauma, he gained a newfound respect for the profession.
Dr. Malone completed his undergraduate degree at UT Austin, where he was the only African American predental student. While attending school, he struck up a lasting friendship with an African American pre-med student. They studied together and challenged one another to graduate with honors, which they did.
After applying to all three Texas dental schools open at that time, Dr. Malone received three first-round acceptance letters in the mail on the same day — letters he still has today. He enrolled at his top choice of San Antonio after the Army approved a four-year education delay for his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps obligation.
Breaking new ground
As a dental student, Dr. Malone helped interview potential students while serving on the school’s admissions committee. Once again, he was the only African American student in his graduating class of 152. Despite the challenge, Dr. Malone knew he had the support of Hazel P. Haynes, DMD, one of the few African American faculty members on site. Dr. Haynes joined the general practice faculty in 1979 before accepting the associate dean of student affairs position that same year. With the encouragement of people like Dr. Haynes, Dr. Malone became the second African American DDS graduate in the institution’s history.
Once in the Army, he completed a two-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) Residency at Fort Hood, Texas, and later obtained board certification. He was then recruited to help establish a one-year AEGD residency program in Hawaii, a “pretty hard-to-resist” assignment, said Dr. Malone.
The experience of setting up a graduate program in Hawaii offered him a deep comprehension of academic administration, which he said laid the groundwork for his future as a dental educator. After serving as AEGD program director in Hawaii and at Fort Hood, Dr. Malone eventually returned to San Antonio as the chief of graduate dental education, the highest-ranking position in the Army for dental education. He presided over 26 residency programs and the residency selection board. The position also involved collaboration with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Coming full circle
Following 25 years of service with the Army, Dr. Malone retired to care for his family. He made his way back to the School of Dentistry in 2013 as a volunteer preclinical faculty member. By 2014, he was teaching all first- and second-year dental students in preclinical lab.
Being back at the school made him keenly aware of the enduring need for student diversification. When the school began to recruit for a new director of admissions, Dr. Malone applied. His experience growing up and serving in places around the world helped him learn how to interact with various cultures and personalities.
“As a minority alumnus with experience in recruiting and the admissions process, I felt I could be of some benefit and would be following in the footsteps of Dr. Haynes,” said Dr. Malone. He was selected and charged with leading the school’s efforts in student recruitment and promotion of the school’s programs.
During his three-year tenure as director, Dr. Malone has advocated for an inclusive environment for all while seeing the composition of the student population changing to reflect that of the surrounding community.
As he steps back from his administrative role, Dr. Malone reflects on what has helped him reach a new generation of dental students.
“Be welcoming. We don’t need to lead with our titles. Potential students are more impressed by us being ourselves,” he said. “I didn’t fully realize the influence that had before — by just being available. Me being me.”