Federal dentistry has lifelong impact on former ADA president

Growing up in a military home, Dr. Carol Summerhays always knew she wanted to serve her country in the same way her grandfather and father did. What she may not have imagined was the impact serving would have on her long career in dentistry. Dr. Summerhays, who served as a naval dentist after graduating from dental school, said the benefits of federal dentistry were numerous: she could practice without worrying about the business of dentistry, while furthering her skillset and minimizing student debt.

Still, “serving in the military is not just about what it does for you,” Dr. Summerhays said. “It’s about what it does for your country.”

Dr. Summerhays has fond, humorous memories of treating her fellow service members. “One day, I was treating a strong, young 6-foot Marine recruit who had clothespins on his ears because he thought it would to help reduce pain,” she said, laughing. “At five feet and only a 100 pounds, I asked him, ‘Do I look like I could hurt you?’ To my surprise, he said ‘“Yes!”’

Lifelong leadership skills

Dr. Summerhays said the leadership skills she acquired growing up in a military home and serving in the Navy paid off later in organized dentistry. A clear understanding of a chain of command assisted her as she rose the ranks in the California Dental Association and the American Dental Association. She eventually became the president of each organization.

“One of my priorities while I was ADA president was to strengthen our relationship with dentists serving in the military,” Dr. Summerhays said.

As president of the ADA, Dr. Summerhays presented the dental chiefs of each branch of the military with an ADA Presidential Citation.

Advice for new dentists

Decades removed from serving as a federal dentist, Dr. Summerhays still thinks federal dentistry is a win-win for the dentist and the country.

“It’s a great opportunity to experience a different model of dentistry,” she said. “You’re able to do ideal dentistry in a lot of cases and not have to worry about the business of dentistry, while serving your country.”

While noting federal dentistry is more competitive than ever due to increased interest, Dr. Summerhays also said it’s an opportunity to further establish clinical skills and practice experience. Many military dentists opt for additional training and eventually pursue a specialty.

Much has changed for Dr. Summerhays since she served in the Navy, but she continues to hold the military and the country – the country that allowed her grandfather, a Filipino immigrant, to serve in its military and become a citizen – in high regard. Dr. Summerhays’ son is a member of the Army National Guard and serves his country just as his mother, grandfather and great grandfather did.

“I would highly recommend anyone who has the opportunity to serve in the military to do it, especially when they’re young,” Dr. Summerhays said. “It changed my life for the better.”

Learn more about federal dentistry on ADA.org.

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