FACE TO FACE - Paying it forward and creating lasting smiles

The team at Comfort Smiles.

The team at Comfort Smiles.




DR Welmilya Francis is living proof of how powerful the impressions are that we make on very young children. She was just five years old when she made her first visit to the dentist. For some children, this can be a harrowing experience. Instead, she was met by a caring woman with a passion for her calling, who made her feel comfortable during her first time in the dentist’s chair.

Dr Veronica McIver impressed Welmilya so much; she was like a mirror into that little girl’s future.

“I was blown away by her as a young, beautiful woman of colour, who was so passionate about her work,” Welmilya said.

“She was young and seemed to enjoy what she was doing. Her interaction with me as a patient and with her assistants was something that I thought I could connect to. My medical doctor was an older white man. So I naturally saw myself in her. The more I went to my dental visits, the more I fell in love with what I saw and I realised that this was the type of environment I wanted to be a part of.”

It didn’t stop there. Welmilya would visit Dr McIver often, even on the weekends when she was in office. Welmilya’s mother approached Dr McIver when her daughter was in junior high school. She asked the thriving dentist if her daughter could become her understudy. Thus began a firm and steady path to dentistry - a career in which Welmilya continues to reach new heights in today. She worked with Dr McIver over a series of summers, each year cementing her life calling more and more.

Welmilya couldn’t fail with a mother like hers. Grace Darling Francis was a loving and devoted mother to her four daughters. She and her husband, retired Chief Supt of Police Wellington Francis, gave their daughters a loving home and an environment where each of them could thrive. Their maternal and paternal family lines were from Acklins and San Salvador islands respectively. The girls revered and cherished their childhood years on Darlings Lane off Wulff Road at their grandmother’s house, their mother’s family homestead.

With a good upbringing and supportive parents, the Francis girls were free to explore their limitless potential.

“When we were children, we all knew we were going to go to college,” Welmilya recalls.

“Although we may not have known the ‘what’ and ‘where’ or even the ‘how’, we all knew that ‘not going to college’ was never an option. My mom was the driving force. She pushed her daughters and instilled that a college education was priceless; no one could ever take that away. She made us believe we could achieve anything. There was never really a ‘no’ when it came to opportunities and experiences that would help us grow and advance. The financial component was the afterthought.

“My mom was the driving force behind my dream becoming a reality. She held me accountable to my dream and with many sacrifices, she and my dad made it happen.”

When Welmilya was in high school, she had the best guidance counsellor she could ever ask for - her own big sister.

“I was blessed to have one of the nation’s best college and career coaches, Dr Monique Hinsey as my guidance counselor in high school,” she said.

“I think that sealed the deal in everything for me. She was the one who navigated my college admissions and scholarship search process, ensuring my college was the right fit for me. I learned about self-actualisation and was able to put things in perspective to prepare for my college journey. Having my sister as my guidance counsellor, supportive parents, and a family that were my biggest cheerleaders, helped to propel me in the direction toward my dreams.”

Welmilya graduated from Kingsway Academy. After high school, she received a scholarship to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She began as a biology major with a focus on advancing to dental school. She credits her college advisor with helping to pave the path to her career of choice. The step-by-step pathway made it easier for her to transition into dental school.

During the summer of her second year at Fisk, Welmilya did a pre-baccalaureate programme at Meharry Dental School that was really for juniors. Her striving spirit and laser focus caught the attention of administrators, and Welmilya was allowed to enter the programme as a sophomore.

This opportunity prepared her for the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), entrance interviews, and the admissions essays for dental school. Meharry had a Big Brother/Sister Mentoring Programme. Through this programme, Welmilya received the mentoring she needed to take her dream to the next level. They provided her with books to read and academic guidance to assist her in the transition to dental school.

Welmilya took the DAT, applied to dental school, and was accepted at Meharry Dental School as well as Howard Dental School. Since she was already in Nashville, Tennassee, and Meharry was just steps away from Fisk University, she chose to study at Meharry.

Once she completed dental school, Welmilya came back home to New Providence, where she had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by several prominent dentists. Once again, Dr McIver played a role in her development, along with dentists such as Doctors Annet Warren, Sparkman Ferguson, Ricardo Crawford, Kendall Major, and Joyous Pickstock. They were all instrumental and significant in helping to shape and guide her on her path to greatness.

Welmilya’s mother, her biggest cheerleader, was once again the driving force in her life that she has always been. This time, she planted seeds of confidence in her daughter, encouraging her as she sought to open her own dental practice.

She shared her vision: “After working for several years, I began to envision a practice in which I could create a dental team of leaders and rock stars, allowing the doctors to do what they do in an environment filled with fun and excitement while making patients feel like they were the top priority when they walked through the door.”

“I felt like Bahamians should be allowed to experience exceptional healthcare and feel that they are a priority from the moment they walk through the doors because they deserve it... and I wanted them to feel special,” she added.

On May 1, 2017, Comfort Smiles Family and Cosmetic Dentistry was launched. Dr Welmilya Francis gave herself a personal mission to create a positive job culture based on training, coaching, and mentorship so that these professionals could empower their patients with their best smiles.

Naturally, Dr Francis wanted other young people to see the light that shone in her as she had evolved from the curious and driven little Welmilya to the professional making major moves and touching lives in the process.

“I think my experience with Dr McIver became the motivation behind Comfort Smiles’ Job Shadowing Programme,” she said.

“Dr McIver would let me do as much as I could at that time, working beside her in her procedures. She would take time to speak with me, take me to lunch, and let me know what it was like being a dentist and what a dentist could looked like. She shared her professional journey with me and was transparent about how rewarding it is to serve patients from all walks of life as well as having the benefit of a very comfortable lifestyle. That sparked my interest and I knew I was going to be in dentistry.”

There are various aspects of the dental field that would yield a career that gives fulfillment and flexibility, Dr Francis advises young people interested in the field.

Options include: dental assistant; dental lab technician; dental hygienist; dental technology specialist; dental administration; dental education; and finally dentistry, leaving room for specialised areas in the field. Perhaps the greatest reward, she said, is being a catalyst for oral health and helping patients realise their priorities while helping to perfect their smile.

As Comfort Smiles celebrates its seventh anniversary this month, Dr Francis reflects on an amazing journey: “My life has come full circle. While the journey to owning my practice has not come without hardships and disappointments, I have chosen to live a reflective life remembering the people who assisted me along the way by opening doors and extending fragments of grace and favour. I was raised in a home where my parents and siblings were always serving or pouring into others. My parents were humanitarians in their rites. This helped to shape my commitment to community and service.”

“It is for this reason that I practice in the ‘pay-it-forward’ mode by mentoring others who share an interest in oral health professions. I would like to see the field better than when I met it. So embedded in my practice policy is the promotion of oral health education and care, career advising, and community outreach. I am passionate about all genres of the arts so it is an easy fit for me to contribute to. I have also given to numerous charitable organizations over the years, but I think my most valuable contributions have been in mentoring and creating a space for the next generation of oral health professionals to grow and become the best in their craft.”

“I have mentees who have been interning Comfort Smiles for years,” she continued.

“Some are currently in college and can be seen in the practice during their summer and Christmas breaks. Others are still in high school and are in our practice quite regularly on the weekends. I am paying it forward and can only hope that those that are coming behind me, would remember my efforts to make the industry better when they officially enter the field.”

It’s a bittersweet time for the Francis family as they celebrate the anniversary of Comfort Smiles. The Francis girls celebrated with their father, but their mother, Grace, has gone on to glory. Prior to her passing in 2021, she was working in the practice, assisting her daughter and sharing her warm, loving spirit with every patient who walked through the doors. Today, Monique has made a picot in her own career to selflessly help her sister in the way her mother did. Keeping family values and a humanitarian spirit in tact, the Francis family are binding together to help each other continue to succeed, and keep their mother’s legacy alive.


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