Servant Leadership Needs No Reward

Molly Pereira Featured News

By Nate Kunzman, D.M.D., CDA President
From the Summer 2021 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

It seems like yesterday that I moved to Colorado from my residency in Philadelphia. In reality, it has been nearly a decade. I was born in Greeley, CO, but my mother moved back to her home state of Massachusetts when I was just 8 months old. From the age of 5 years old I spent every summer visiting my dad in Greeley. I have fond memories of those summers and I always knew that one day I would move back and make Colorado my permanent home.

After college and before I went to dental school, I decided to take a few years off and do some service work abroad. I had converted to Catholicism when I was a senior in high school and had gone to Benedictine College in New Hampshire. While I was there, I found a passion and love for service work, so after college I decided to fly to Bolivia and Peru and work as a physical education teacher at an elementary school run by the Maryknoll brothers. I received six months of language training in Bolivia and after my lessons, I helped at an orphanage for boys. After Bolivia, I was sent to Lima, Peru and I got to teach first through sixth graders how to play dodgeball and capture the flag. It was the most rewarding experience of my life.

While I was there one of the Maryknoll priests was conversing with me and some of the other volunteers. He said, “Whatever you guys decide to do in life make sure you embrace your profession with love and kindness. Whatever you decide to do, make it God’s work.” Then he followed it with, “unless you become a dentist because that is probably impossible.” He did not know that I wanted to become a dentist. I laughed to myself that day and I have spent my entire life proving him wrong.

Service and doing good works are very much a part of who I am. In fact, one of my core values that I look at every day is servant leadership. It is why I am so passionate about the Colorado Mission of Mercy and why I participate as much as possible with Dental Lifeline Network. It is also why I got involved with the CDA. Being in leadership roles in the CDA is not easy. It requires time away from family and many Zoom calls after long days at the office. However, it is rewarding and fulfilling to serve this community.

I cannot express enough how proud I was of our CDA leadership and staff when COVID-19 first hit. Many of you may have different experiences or may have felt frustrated back in March of 2020, but what I saw was inspiring. Leaders of the CDA met every day for over a month. They got all parties involved: CDPHE, DORA, dental suppliers, the Governor’s office, the Colorado Dental Hygienists’ Association, community health networks, Delta Dental, etc. They worked hard to understand the PPP and EIDL loans for dentists so they could use them appropriately. They worked with DORA and the governor’s office to get us back to work and to ensure that the PHOs kept us safe without impeding us from doing our work as best we could. A lot of dentists will never know how hard the CDA worked for them, and I am ok with that. After all, service work is not about the recognition; it is about the good works and knowing that you were a part of something that made a difference. That is the reward. That is why I am here. I am here for you. I am here to make a difference.

You have all been through an incredible ordeal these past 16 months and I am truly amazed at the fortitude, ingenuity and strength of our dental community. All of you made it through the closures, the ever-changing public health orders, the incredibly hot and cumbersome PPE, the government assistance loans, the staff shortages, the lack of PPE…all of it! I could not be prouder to be a member of Colorado’s dental profession with all of you.

I feel the best is ahead of us. Right now, the CDA executive officers and the Board of Trustees are working hard on our next strategic plan. We have searched out the best people possible to aid us in this endeavor. Once again one of our main focuses will be membership because as one of my mentors recently told me, “Membership is everything.” It is no secret that our profession is currently facing many challenges. Our landscape is changing, and we must be forward-thinking and adapt to those changes and work to keep the needs of dentists and patients first. We are still in the beginning stages of this new strategic plan, but we have already done a vast amount of market research. We are identifying market needs for our dentists and their patients and coming up with new and innovative ideas to meet those needs. We are looking to create a more enhanced customer service model to better seek out opportunities to engage with our members. This proactive approach will help guide us into the future and has already put us far ahead of many of our peer state associations. Believe me when I say our future is bright.

It has been an extreme pleasure working with the Board of Trustees these past five years, and I am deeply looking forward to working with all of them in this year to come. I would also like to thank the CDA staff. These individuals are rock stars! They have led the way for us and without their hard work and vision we would not be where we are today. Most of all I would like to thank my family and especially my wife, Wesley. They have been my inspiration and support through it all. My daughter, Easton, just turned 6 years old. She never ceases to make me smile. The other day I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, and she said, “a pet doctor.” Needless to say, I’m proud that she is on her path to serving others as well.