Dr. Kari Cunningham

Dr. Kari Cunningham

Life as a New Dentist — Community Health Center

The ADA is made up of individuals — here’s one of them.

Who are you? I’m Dr. Kari Cunningham. I’m a proud member of the Class of 2010 of Case Western Reserve University. I completed a pediatric residency in 2012, and today I am a pediatric dentist in a community health center in Cleveland, OH.

If you could have any job OTHER THAN dentistry, what would it be? Event planner! I am always planning a social event or fundraiser for the organizations I’m involved in. I have the best time coming up with a theme, creating invitations, promoting the event and seeing it all come together!

Why did you choose this career path? I am a National Health Service Corps scholarship recipient, so I am happy to be fulfilling my service commitment so close to my hometown. I’m passionate about serving the underserved.

Biggest surprise since leaving dental school? I was asked to be an adjunct faculty at dental school! Giving lectures to first year students is encouraging to me — they are so motivated and willing to learn. I just completed University of California, San Diego’s three week faculty development program Addressing the Oral Health Needs of the Underserved.

What’s your schedule like? My job is 8:30 – 5:30. Outside of that I serve on the executive committee of our alumni association, I am active in National Health Service Corps, and being part of a sickle cell family, I have joined the board of the American Sickle Cell Anemia Association. I have learned to better manage my schedule, and I no longer say yes to everything!

What are you doing for fun? I just bought a house, and I’m enjoying the process of turning that into a home. I love spending time with my family and our Cunningham Sunday Fundays. And I’ve got a pediatric dentistry mission trip planned to Kenya that will overlap with my 30th birthday. This will be my second trip to Africa in ten years, and I’m very excited!

Any advice for someone considering your career path? If serving the underserved is your passion, look into the National Health Service Corps and other entities that can assist you in sharing your craft with our nation’s most vulnerable population. For the scholarship, apply early and apply often! Look into loan repayment opportunities as well. Learn about underserved populations and realize how you can play a significant role in improving the lives of many. If you like teaching, find a mentor and volunteer to facilitate small group sessions at your school or serve as a liaison to a pre dental society. Our future colleagues want to learn from you!

What are your plans for the future? Ever since I was a resident I have tracked my immediate, short and long-term goals. Working at this health center as its first and only pediatric dentist is an early part of my plan. Becoming a private-practice owner and teaching in a dental school are my long term goals.

Interested in sharing your experience as a new dentist? If you are fewer than ten years out of dental school we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at newdentist@ada.org.