Growing up in Jasper, AL, Katharine knew at the early age of 6, that she wanted to be a dentist. "I always came home with a good dental health report and it made me so happy!" says Dr. Culp. So happy, that she started shadowing her family dentist in middle school and on through high school. She quickly realized that many children did not get a perfect dental report and this made her desire to become a dentist stronger than ever.
While in dental school at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Dr. Culp learned about the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) after speaking with a graduating senior who was getting ready to be placed at an NHSC site. For Dr. Culp, this was exactly what she had been looking for--an opportunity to be debt free, stay in her state and be close to family. Dr. Culp became one of only two dentists at the Quality of Life Health Services Community Health Center, a 35-year old health center in the heart of this community.
Dr. Culp has been at Quality Life Health Services for the past 8 years and has risen to the position of Dental Director. "Did I think I would come here and stay this long after completing my NHSC service? No! But I got here and saw how we provide access to so many people, especially children and that it is a perfect match for me." Under Dr. Culp’s leadership, Quality of Life Health Services has expanded to 20 locations in 10 different counties, including seven new dental sites that have been opened. She is particularly proud of this achievement because she believes that with the opening of these seven dental clinics she has been an integral part of getting more access to care for her patients, not to mention her ability to bring in more NHSC providers to these sites. With three dentists at the Gadsden site alone, she and the two other dentists see about 800 patients a month. Her patient population includes indigent, special needs and children and infants, many of whom are Hispanic and require interpretive services as well. Although they do some referrals, Dr. Culp’s motto is to “treat as much as we can and as many as we can." In addition, Dr. Culp does school based and Head Start dental clinics for the county school system.
Quality of Life Health Services Gadsden Family and Student Health Solutions program received a $500,000 federal grant to create a mobile unit equipped with medical, dental, computer and telemedicine equipment for the school-based health program. With the mobile unit, Dr. Culp and her colleagues will be able to serve all of the students and children in Gadsden. This mobile unit can travel between the school campuses, which is designed to improve access, increase the number of students who use the program and remove transportation problems. Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Ed Miller said, “Quality of Life leadership and staff is to be commended for their tireless efforts to bring quality health improvement to the city of Gadsden." Dr. Culp couldn’t agree more. She has developed a great working relationship with her CEO, and CFO who collaborate with the medical and dental staff and this contributes to an environment in which she feels there are limitless opportunities to be able to impact her community. Dr. Culp has also been instrumental in getting her site to become a part of the Student/Resident Experiences and Rotations in Community Health (SEARCH), a state-based program that enables students and residents to serve clinical rotations on multidisciplinary health care teams in underserved communities.
In fact, she has taken this a step further and created a program with the local Wallace State Community College to begin clinical rotations for dental assistants to rotate through the clinic, which has been a successful recruitment program for increasing their dental assistant staff.
As she continues to pursue her passion, she encourages the next generation of dentists in her community to give back to those most in need.