10 Under 10: Dr. Courtney Burrill, from the Air Force to mentoring Alaska’s future dentists

Dr. Courtney Burrill, right, created a pre-dental association for students at the University of Alaska Anchorage to mentor future dentists.

Serving in the Air Force has been good for Dr. Courtney Burrill.

Her service paid for dental school. She’s done dentistry on humanitarian trips, at home and abroad.

It brought her to Alaska, a state whose natural beauty she loves.

And it showed her the value of being organized — of getting people together to bounce ideas off each other and trade stories about their own experiences. She’s used that experience to help organize dentists across rural Alaska.

“In the military I worked with a group of people always — when you had problems, you had staff you could interact with, bounce ideas off of, but when you go into private practice it’s different. You’re kind of alone unless you seek that stuff out,” Dr. Burrill said. “I really think we learn a lot from each other and I really value that.”

Dr. Burrill, who presented research while a dentist in the Air Force, has helped develop continuing education seminars for other dentists since transitioning from the Air Force to private practice.

Getting people together for continuing education can be “like pulling teeth,” Dr. Burrill joked. But one hour, once a month, can go a long way over the course of a career, she said.

While transitioning from the Air Force to private practice, Dr. Burrill created a pre-dental association for students at the University of Alaska Anchorage. That was a project born out the Institute for Diversity and Leadership with the ADA.

Dr. Courtney Burrill poses for a photo during a hike with her three
children, Carolyn, Alex and Audra.

Dr. Burrill had always mentored students, and the organization was a way of formalizing her mentorship. She believes in helping people.

“It stems back to my personal mentor. She inspired me. I don’t know if I’d be here today if it wasn’t for her,” she said. “I love predental students, students who truly want to do it. They’re the best. They’re so passionate, so energetic; there’s such a great energy.”

Because of her work with young students, she’s heard from dentists who didn’t have the same opportunities long ago.

“I’ve had local dentists say, ‘Oh, thank you, when I grew up here I wanted to be a dentist and I knew I had to go to school in the lower 48 if I ever wanted to get in,’ she said. There’s not a lot of guidance or mentorship,” Dr. Burrill said.

She learned the value of a mentor early on — a woman who encouraged her to just go for it when she was working as a high-school teacher after undergraduate school — and wants to make sure she helps those who come after her.

“Where you can help people you help them where you can,” Dr. Burrill said. “I’d be nothing if not for people helping me along the way. That’s what I try to embody in my daily life.”

Dr. Burrill is a recipient of the 2018 10 Under 10 award. Read more about the award at ADA.org/10under10.

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