Courtney Levine planned to be a pediatrician. But while working in a research lab in the Dental School during her junior year at the University of Iowa, everyone kept telling her, “You should go into dentistry.” Although initially rejecting the idea, Courtney finally decided to talk to her dentist while at home during winter break.
“And that was it; the convincing was over, and that following summer, I started studying for the dental exams,” Courtney said. “I always had an interest in health care, and over time it turned to dentistry. Now I wouldn’t change it for the world!”
Graduating with a degree in Spanish, she went on to dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. She acknowledges that Spanish is quite a deviation from the usual biology or chemistry undergraduate major. “My two sisters and I all majored in Spanish because of the influence from my dad, who was from Argentina,” said Courtney. “But, I did all my science prerequisites as well. My ability to communicate with my patients allows them to be more comfortable and for me to develop a better relationship with them.”
Kenosha serves a significantly low-income, under-insured, and uninsured population, with a heavy proportion of Latinos and African Americans. Courtney is part of a team of 12 full-time dentists and 12 full-time hygienists working at a new and expanded dental clinic built in 2008 with 43 operatories, which greatly increased access to comprehensive oral health care for the community. Courtney said working at Kenosha has provided her with a great transition from dental school to the “real world” of dentistry.
“There is a lot of diversity in the community health setting—some patients having received great dental care all their lives and others have received very little care. So I’m able to practice all scopes of dentistry from routine procedures to things that are usually seen only in textbooks,” she said.
The dentist who started out wanting to be a pediatrician has still been able to pursue her passion for working with kids. She has been instrumental in starting KCHC’s ‘Seal-A-Smile’ preventative dentistry program that provides screening services and sealants on teeth to elementary school children. In the two years since it began with just ten schools, the program has grown to 21 schools served, with members of the dental team visiting each school three times throughout the school year.
Courtney says she is looking forward to staying a while longer—she’s just signed her commitment to the Corps for another year. And, she’s hoping to pass on her passion for serving the underserved—she has made several presentations about the NHSC at Marquette Dental School in Milwaukee, encouraging dental students to consider joining the Corps.
“When I was sick as a kid, I went to the doctor; and when I had a toothache, I went to the dentist. I’ve been very fortunate to have that opportunity,” said Courtney, who grew up in Chicago’s northern suburbs. “Primary care allows me to give back to people who don’t have that access, and I feel so blessed to be able to do this. I could never see myself working in private practice because my passion lies with community health. I love what I do!”