A Family Tree with Many Roots

Kelsey CreehanFeatured News

By Karen Foster, D.D.S., CDA President
From the Summer 2018 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

Family is very important to me. I’m fortunate to have many different families in my life. To me, family isn’t just about DNA and whom you spend holidays with, it’s also about who you care about unconditionally, who has your back and who comprises your village.

My life’s been an adventure from Alaska to Colorado to Texas and, for me, back to Colorado. My parents are still in Texas; my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces, the lights of my life, are in Louisiana. Despite the distance, they are my greatest supporters. Technology and frequent flyer miles keep us connected throughout the year.

With my relatives’ physical absence in Colorado, I have been fortunate to find a family in organized dentistry. My adventure in dentistry started in second grade. While living in Paonia, CO, I was asked to complete a report on a local career – I happened to choose the dentist. I was hooked and since the age of 8, I declared I was going to be a dentist. Perhaps though, the seed really was planted at age 5 while living in Englewood, CO. We lived in the house across the street from Dr. Ken Versman, a past president of the CDA and well-known periodontist in the metro area. From that age forward, I was always intrigued by dentistry.

In 1997, I earned a degree in zoology from Texas Tech University. I was ahead of my time and took what is now known as a “gap year” between college and dental school. First, I worked in a general dental practice. Although I’m reluctant to admit this, I got fired because I couldn’t take, process and mount an FMX in less than 20 minutes. That said, it worked out great because I then began working in a pediatric dental practice. In 1998, I was accepted to Baylor College of Dentistry, now Texas A&M. I tried to be open-minded, but it became clear that pediatric dentistry was for me (I really didn’t like dentures). After dental school, I went to Houston to complete my residency to become a certified pediatric dentist.

In 2004, when I was trying to determine where I should set up shop, organized dentistry came in handy by providing a list of pediatric dentists in Colorado. I sent letters to every one of them to ask about opportunities. I was able to join Dr. Glen Dean as a part-time associate in his private practice in Grand Junction, CO while also working part-time at the nonprofit Marillac Clinic. It was a great time and I was able to serve as a delegate from the Western Colorado Dental Society, introducing me to the CDA. After three years, I was ready to start my own practice. I made the tough decision to leave the Grand Valley and move to the Front Range. Saddle Rock Pediatric Dentistry in Aurora, CO opened in 2008. It’s been an adventure and I’m grateful to organized dentistry for providing so many networking opportunities.  

The CDA has an amazing history and our history shall not be forgotten. We, the current leaders, owe it to the past members to keep the CDA strong and vibrant as we face the future. Thank you to CDA Immediate Past President Dr. Carol Morrow for her great year of leadership. She will be a tough act to follow.

I promise to continue to focus on the CDA strategic plan.

  1. To ensure an efficient and viable organization for the future, we must lay the groundwork to make sure the CDA continues to be a strong organization. I am truly excited to increase our leadership development track and will consult each one of you to identify potential leaders for the future.
  2. Creating the infrastructure for recruitment and retention of members continues to be vitally important. To be frank, we do not exist without members; we do exist for our members. We will continue to work hard to bring value to each one of you. I’m thrilled with the relaunch of CDA Enterprises and its mission to increase non-dues revenue by offering high quality, affordable member benefits and supporting social goodwill in the profession of dentistry.
  3. Ensuring quality dental care for all Coloradans is something we will never stop doing. I believe that we must maintain quality care, led by the dentist, for all. There are many facets to this and a corresponding goal is to establish the oral cavity as part of the whole body and overall health. Our legislative interview process of state leaders occurred this summer and established these important messages.

When I started on the leadership track with the CDA many years ago, I know I would have answered quite differently as to what my priorities as president would be. Life, however, has shaped my most pressing goal this year—focusing on the wellness of our profession. My CDA family came in very handy when I needed to find coverage for my office on short notice when I lost one of my associates.

I remember it was Thursday, but it’s a day I remember as if I wasn’t part of it; it is a movie that plays in my head while I watch. After seeing a patient that morning, I noticed a call coming through on my personal cell phone. I remember thinking, hmmm she never calls me; I should answer. “Hello,” I answered, just like any other call. But then, unlike any other call in my life, her response shattered my world. My mind could barely process what she said. Surely, I had misheard something. After disconnecting, I sat in my office in horrified silence. I remember going into the private bathroom at the back of the office and melting.

He worked in the office the day of his death. On his way out, he told everyone, “See you next week!” And then…he was gone. He was 43 years old, a husband, a son, a brother and a friend. We were in residency together; when he moved to Colorado, he reached out to me. When I had an opening for an associate, I was pleased to add him to my practice.

My friend—my colleague—died by suicide.  In turn, I have become aware of more and more suicides, several of them in the dental community. I can assure you no matter how it looks from the outside, none of us have perfect lives or dental careers; it’s time we acknowledge that. After his passing, I was grateful to be able to lean on one of my CDA/MDDS mentors who had experienced losing an associate to suicide early in his career as well. I was glad to know I was not alone.

I was aware my friend and colleague was struggling. I will forever regret not calling him on the day of his death. I had an uneasy feeling but got busy with my own life and didn’t slow down to make a call. I also know that this would not have changed the outcome, but I never want anyone of us to have that same regret. I want us to be able to talk about suicide and how it is not the answer. The statistics are not great—in 2016, it is estimated 400 physicians took their own lives. Our wellbeing committee, Concerned Colorado Dentists, is amazing and can help anytime. I want to make sure our member dentists know there are resources for them if they are suffering financially, mentally or physically. We are a community and I want to honor that and avoid anyone feeling so helpless that they take their own life.

Dr. Karen Foster addresses the 2018 House of Delegates in Crested Butte, CO on June 8, 2018.

United by our organized dentistry family, we are stronger; I encourage, urge, and challenge you to take advantage of the network that is provided for you. I will always welcome your thoughts, suggestions and opinions—I’m just a phone call or email away. I look forward to serving my “family,” the Colorado Dental Association, as your leader this year.