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Dr. Patrick Rooney’s career in public health dentistry

Greetings, my name is Dr. Patrick Rooney, and I am a graduate of the University of Washington School of Dentistry. My first clinical experience with Public Health Dentistry was a summer session between my 3rd and 4th year of dental school, when I was fortunate to participate in the collaboration with the Yakima Valley Migrant Farm Worker Health Care Clinics in Yakima and Toppenish, in rural Eastern Washington. That singular formative experience with a most needy population was when I realized the end result of the trials and rigors of our dental education would lead to me as a professional passion.

Red cross boat in water

After graduation, my exposure to the dire realities of untreated and rampant tooth decay in our backyard communities helped me shape the eventual model of practice.  These strong feelings of professional direction and focus were enhanced yet further with my first two jobs as a dentist. I was the first and only full-time staff dentist at the Interfaith Community Health Center, then a two-chair clinic in Bellingham, Washington, and helped with its growth to 4 chairs.  Young children and teenagers were our focus, and rampant dental caries the norm.   A second valuable experience was a job for several months as staff dentist at the Lummi Nation Tribal Health Center, also in Bellingham.  The pattern continued there…rampant 4 quads of untreated tooth decay.  And so, by 2 years of good clinical experience with rampant oral disease I had the vision of the reality of the community I had loved since my childhood, and a model of the private practice I would open and run for over the next 20+ years.  My focus was on access as a “safety net provider” to the neediest among us…low income children with the highest rates of untreated rampant decay.

Clinicians with patient

Since my retirement from the full-time practice of dentistry, I have continued to stay involved with my chosen profession through volunteer opportunities. For example, I have been fortunate to join overseas humanitarian  missions with the U.S. Navy aboard its 2 Navy Hospital Ships as a civilian dentist…USNS Mercy in the Philippines in 2016, and USNS Comfort with two similar missions to the Southern Hemisphere for 5 months over 2018 and 2019. Countries including Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Colombia, Honduras, and several island nations of the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela.  In addition to the daily clinical treatment of the great number of wonderful, grateful and needy populations  at each stop, we also collaborated with each country’s Ministries of Health, with referrals to local sources for follow up care of the most complicated cases, held symposiums with local health care providers on topics of procedures, materials, and demonstrations to local dentists on how/ we do what we do, and along with hands on clinical healthcare, teams of Navy Seabees built roads, school buildings, water projects, fences for livestock, and more, in the hot and humid jungle environments  of our destinations.  All hands returned to the ship each evening ready for a quick meal, department meeting, maybe some Peloton or weight room  workout, shower, and fall into a Navy rack fully exhausted but with a smile of memories of the full day just completed, a sound sleep, and awake at 4:45 am to do it all again the next day!  900+ people ALL on the same page. In addition to active duty Navy medical personnel, we were joined by officers and enlisted personnel with the U.S. Public Health Service which also included several days on board with us by the Surgeon General of the United States.

Two clinicians with patient

Finally, yet one more exhilarating experience as a volunteer in the Public Health arena has been my wonderful experience closer to home with the Seattle King County Clinic for 4 days each in 2018, 2019, and 2020.  These clinics have been held at Seattle Center for several years now, and I look forward to the day we can continue this outreach to so many in our own backyard here in the Pacific Northwest.  I applaud the focus and efforts of the UW School of Dentistry and the DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health, for the high level of training and social awareness to ever more generations of young dedicated healthcare providers known as DENTISTS!!!

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