“Working with patients involves education. You teach all the time, every day. We’re all teachers all the time.”
Sometimes, a bumpy start to one's career is a good thing, as Dr. Karl Brose '72 discovered. Initially enrolled at another dental school, he was not satisfied with his experience, and transferred to the University of the Pacific. On his first day working in the school's dental clinic, he had an encounter with a faculty member that made a big impact on him.
As Karl recalls, "Dr. C [Robert Christoffersen] said, 'Can I see you? Where did you learn to do that?'" Karl was quickly escorted to the back of the clinic for some quick coaching. "He gave me a bunch of instructions on the blackboard, and that's how I learned to do things. He said he trusted me to do it the right way."
Happily, Karl was a quick study, and at the conclusion of his dental education at Pacific, he was proficient enough to become an instructor himself in the Fixed Prosthodontics department for a few months while he waited for his license. "Teaching the students was amazing, and seeing how much they hungered for knowledge."
Today, Karl is an established professional with a successful practice in the Santa Cruz area, and he has found ways to help others as he was once helped. "I started out helping young adults in my practice," said Karl. "I found there was a great deal of need by people who came in and were floundering with their dental care, usually between ages 16 and 30. There's a gap [in availability and access to care] there that doesn't get filled by our society." He takes on one or two of these patients each year, charging them nothing for their care. Additionally, he volunteers with the Monterey Bay Dental Society, conducting screenings of third-graders in Davenport, a small town 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.
These days, dentistry and philanthropy have taken him to another shore entirely. A friend of Karl's, a pastor, invited him to visit Fiji. He packed up some of his dental equipment and made the trip. "It seemed natural... I never felt shy about doing that." What he found was a beautiful natural landscape — and a local population with an appalling lack of accessible dental care. Karl explains that for many Fijians, seeing a dentist involves a long bus trip and days to receive (substandard) care, causing people to delay or forgo treatment. As a result, all too often, "a small area of decay turns into big problems, abscesses." What Karl and his team offer is quality care near their patients' homes that far exceeds their expectations.
The Fiji trip is now an annual outreach event which includes student volunteers from the dental school. "It's a big deal. Once a year we go over there and do our thing. Hopefully we have 20-25 dental students to go with us. Students get together and screen each other to decide who will go." Karl provides the clinic infrastructure, the large equipment and chairs; the students bring smaller tools such as lights and setting pieces. The student dentists assist by performing extractions, root canals, fillings and partial dentures. Last year, Karl's team provided $250,000 in oral health care, treating 600 people over the course of a week.
Back where it all began, Karl is establishing an endowed chair at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in the name of "Dr. C" with the purpose of helping fund school facilities. "He's really a favorite of mine; he saved my neck. He's helped a number of kids in school too, not just me."
Asked what motivates Karl to do so much, he responds simply, "It just feels like the right thing to do."