In 2004, as a fourth year dental student at University of California – San Francisco (UCSF), Katherine Vo began her journey to bridge the gap to dental care in the community during her dental school rotation at Oakland Asian Health Services (AHS).
“The clinic director and staff showed me an aspect of dentistry that I wasn’t familiar with – dental public health. There is a tremendous need for subsidized dental care that a large population of low-middle income need, with few places for them to turn. It’s a real issue right here in urban cities like Oakland and San Francisco.”
The 2017 Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree lives that mission still today with AHS (shown above), at her San Francisco dental practice, Katherine T. Vo D.D.S., as an Assistant Clinical Professor and mentor at UCSF School of Dentistry and in her work Smiles City Connect clinic, a program of the San Francisco Dental Society, among other pursuits.
Says Dr. Vo:
“My family moved to Oakland (California) from Vietnam with modest means and we received support from organizations like AHS, and I feel it is my time to give back to the community. I truly enjoyed my experience as a dental student, being part of the AHS family and since then continue to help out as much as I can.”
As a clinical professor at UCSF and mentor at UCSF Community Dental Clinic (an ADA award-winning program), Dr. Vo leads students in efforts to support the homeless members of the community who usually do not have access to dental care.
“The clinic initially served only homeless patients, but since has expanded to care for refugees and illegal immigrants. It is a warm feeling to provide care to someone without any expectation of payment and their repeated expression of appreciation is a constant reminder of the core reason for my chosen career – to change lives for the better one healthy smile at a time. …
The students are the ones who inspire me to help bridge the gap to dental care for this underserved population. As a student there some 15 years ago, involvement at the clinic made an impact on me and inspired me to come back to the school as a faculty member.”
Interaction with patients continually reinforce that feeling for Dr. Vo. She recalls a meaningful discussion at a recent Smiles City Connect clinic, where the San Francisco Dental Society provides dentures for the homeless.
“A patient was so happy to receive his teeth. He said, ‘I can now start going on job interviews and turn my life around.’ Moments like this remind me that my little effort can be a huge impact for that one individual!”
In 2013, San Francisco Dental Society honored Dr. Vo as Committee Person of the Year, for her dedication on its Community Dental Health Committee. The honor speaks volumes to her commitment within organized dentistry and its charitable outreach.
Dr. Vo even incorporates charitable pursuits into her quest for fitness and self-reflection.
“I started running for fitness about eight years ago and got really hooked on the adrenaline and the physical challenge. … I combined my interest for running to raise fund for causes that are important to me. I ran the 2013 New York Marathon for Team for Kids, 2015 Boston Marathon for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (shown below) , 2017 Oakland Running Festival for AHS, and am hoping to join Amnesty International at the 2018 London Marathon.”
“Being by myself on the road at dawn is my favorite time for self-reflection and planning for the day. Training for long distance runs keeps me focused and disciplined, and that translates to positive energy for sometimes a stressful day in private practice.”
For more about the Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 Winners
- Check out our previous blog posts featuring this year’s 40 Under 40 Winners .
- See our blog posts featuring winners from previous years .