National Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Accomplished Dentist, Delta Dental of Illinois Board member Finds Passion in Craft, Inspiring Young Hispanics in Dental Industry
Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and represents a time to celebrate the history, culture and contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
As part of our commemoration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Delta Dental of Illinois interviewed Dr. Genaro (Gene) Romo (pictured), a member of our Board of Directors and practicing dentist, to highlight not only his own achievements as a dentist, but also his work in aiding the advancement of fellow Hispanic dentists and improving the oral health and overall health in Hispanic communities on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Dr. Romo has served on our Board since 2017 and is our current chair of the Grants Committee of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, as well as our incoming Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors.
When Dr. Romo was in dental school, he recalls there being maybe two other fellow Hispanics in his entire class. He compares it to the experience relayed in his favorite movie, “Patch Adams,” where Patch Adams’ peers and professors can’t relate to or understand him, noting when one doesn’t have peers they can relate to, it can be a struggle.
Dr. Romo credits his decision to ultimately enroll in dental school to two dental school recruiters, who worked with prospective minority dental school students at University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. These recruiters took Dr. Romo on a tour of the labs and classes at the College and told him that he would soon be one of those students. He had heard from some about how hard it was to get into dental school, let alone graduate, but he could literally see himself there because of the words and actions of these two. Dr. Romo graduated from the University of Illinois College of Dentistry in 1997.
Dr. Romo began his dental career as an associate for several private practices and as a clinical extern for the University of Illinois at Chicago Pediatric Dental Clinic for two years before ultimately opening his own practice in Brighton Park 15 years ago. In 2018, he expanded his practice, opening another location in West Lawn.
As he has grown in the profession, he has made it a point to remember where he comes from, having grown up in the predominantly Hispanic Little Village neighborhood in Chicago (his mother still lives in the home he grew up in). With strong familial roots and sense of community, Dr. Romo had a goal of working in and servicing the Hispanic community, as well as a strong desire to serve as a role model for his community and help mentor and motivate others to follow his footsteps into dentistry.
With his current practice locations, Dr. Romo accomplished his goal, with a patient base of mainly Hispanic patients. Dr. Romo said being able to relate through language and culture is huge.
He uses this bond to help dispel certain myths he said he sees commonly in the Hispanic community, such as people thinking young children don’t need to visit the dentist by age 1 and having ongoing regular cleanings as adult teeth come in. With diabetes and hypertension prevalent in his community, he also promotes the link between oral health and other health issues, like diabetes. In fact, he has identified a diabetic condition for several of his patients.
The chance to treat and educate patients is rewarding to Dr. Romo, as is the chance to mentor. Dr. Romo, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Mexico, is the second oldest of four children, and he and his siblings all are accomplished with successful careers. Dr. Romo always knew he wanted to help people. Growing up near the University of Illinois Medical Center, as well as hearing from a dentist who spoke to kids at his local Boys & Girls Club, sparked his interest in dentistry.
Crediting his parents, his community and those who supported him along the way for his success, he said he sees so many go-getters in the Hispanic community and knows with a bit of extra support they could go far, with this knowledge fueling his passion to mentor.
He is the past and again current president of the Hispanic Dental Association Greater Chicago Chapter, serving as a role model for young dentists and encouraging them to stay involved with their peers, as it is easy to get focused only on within the four walls of the operatory. Forming connections and having camaraderie is of the utmost importance so they do not feel alone in their profession, he said.
Dr. Romo finds fulfillment in going to career days at schools, where he said children or teens will look at him and tell him he looks like a kid from the neighborhood, and he lets them know he is from the neighborhood. He loves talking to young people – especially fellow Hispanics and other minorities – so they can see someone they can relate to who has achieved their goals. Dr. Romo believes it is vital for himself and others like him to be there to give that extra push when needed to encourage others to be confident in following in their footsteps.
According to a 2017 study from oralhealthworkfroce.org on the evolving pipeline of U.S. dentists, despite an increase in domestic dental school enrollment among Hispanic students, a large gap remains between the U.S. population that is Hispanic and the portion of U.S. dentists that are Hispanic. And according to the PEW Research Center, the U.S. Hispanic population reached 60.6 million people last year, up more than 10 million from 2010.
Dr. Romo noted Hispanic youth do not always get opportunity and visibility, and he is confident they can succeed, have a comfortable living, support their community if they choose and close the gap.
In addition, Dr. Romo enjoys giving back in a variety of ways, including his work with Delta Dental of Illinois.
He pointed to being chairman on the Grants Committee at Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation as being ideal for him. In his role, he gets to help choose grant recipients for the Foundation’s Community Grant Program and other grants, such as the recent COVID-19 Emergency Grants.
Photo of Dr. Romo presenting Heartland Head Start with their Community Grant on behalf of the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation.
He also shared his love for his role as a Delta Dental of Illinois’ Board Member, where he has an opportunity lend his expertise as a practicing dentist.
And in his spare time away from the many duties and responsibilities at his practice and at Delta Dental of Illinois, one can find Dr. Romo doing something completely different – DJing. He worked as a DJ all through college and soon became in high demand as Gino Rockin Romo. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he began livestreaming from his basement on Saturdays, getting thousands of views spinning on Facebook Live.
Photo of Gino Rockin Romo livestreaming from his basement.
Whether seeing patients, serving with other Board members at Delta Dental of Illinois or jamming out as a DJ, Dr. Romo maintains all his passions the same way – with enthusiasm and an optimistic outlook. With National Hispanic Heritage Month being a chance to celebrate Hispanic achievements and culture, Dr. Romo reflects on his community.
“Young Hispanic kids need to see people like them achieving. What doesn’t surprise me is how many want to do well. They just need to see people out there who they can relate to and look up to,” Dr. Romo said.