Alumni Spotlight

Christine Roalofs, DMD '94

In recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day 2023, we asked Dr. Roalofs to talk about working in dentistry in remote Alaska. 

When I moved to Alaska in 1999, I was working in the populated areas of Wasilla and Anchorage. I thought I was only going to stay in Alaska for two years and I wanted to experience as much as I could. I started calling the Dental Directors in different service areas around the state and expressed my interest in taking care of kids in remote areas.

My first trip was to a village called Gambell, which is on St. Lawrence Island in the middle of the Bering Sea, in February of 2001. Now, 22 years later, I am still servicing that community for one week a year. Since 2001, I have adopted other villages and travelled to cool places like Brevig Mission, Stebbins, St. Michael, and Savoonga. Savoonga is the neighboring village on St. Lawrence Island. Gambell and Savoonga are Siberian Yupik and have shared families that are Siberian Yupik living in Russia. The families I care for in Stebbins and St, Michael are Yupik, and the families in Brevig Mission are Inupiat.

The families are grateful that I come to them. It is rare that a specialist travels to the smaller villages. If for some reason I cannot provide needed care in the village setting, the child needs to be referred to Anchorage for comprehensive care under general anesthesia. What does that mean? It means 3-4 days away from home. It means a plane flight on a small plane to Nome, then connecting to a jet flight to Anchorage, and then navigating cab rides, surgical centers, and the big city.  Occasionally a parent enjoys a trip to the big city, but more often they dread traveling with a young child who may or may not enjoy the experience.

Why do I keep doing it? What started as a way to explore and see parts of Alaska away from the road system morphed into something I was good at.  I don't mind working with portable gear and not having a TV on the ceiling. I love the people who live in these villages. It is not an easy life, but it is what they know. It is an expensive way of life, and the old traditional ways are blended with the new ways and the struggle to exist in both worlds is a real concern for the youth in these communities. 

I do wish we could find effective ways to lower the caries rate. I feel needed in these communities, and we treat the devastating effects of rampant dental caries on very young children. 

Cultural awareness is so important to the Alaska Natives that I serve — keeping an open mind, and understanding that just because "we" do it this way in our culture and they don't do it the same way does not make it wrong. It's just different.  

How long will I keep doing this? I've already retired from private practice, but I still work these 6 weeks in Alaska every year. If any Pediatric Dentists are interested in joining me in serving these communities, they should reach out. 

October 6, 2023

Alma Ljaljevic-Tucakovic, DMD ’00 

More than 30 years have passed since the siege of Sarajevo in April 1992. Alma Ljaljevic-Tucakovic lived through the ethnically-rooted war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former republic of Yugoslavia, making her way to Louisville as a refugee in 1996. UofL News caught up with Ljaljevic-Tucakovic, School of Dentistry’s assistant dean for Student Admissions and Student Affairs, to learn about how she overcame adversity and eventually made her way to UofL. 

Read more from UofL News: UofL dental school assistant dean describes harrowing experience overcoming Bosnian war 

September 14, 2022

P. Gay Baughman, ’81 

Looking at the UofL School of Dentistry today, you’ll see an equal mix of men and women, but that hasn’t always been the case. In the late 1970s, nearly all dental students and faculty were male. P. Gay Baughman ’81 recalls how she and other women were treated differently than male students. “I’d be the only female taking a particular oral exam, and the professor would ask me all the questions,” she said. “I dealt with what seemed like unfairness by changing my personality. I became very quiet, because if you became small maybe they wouldn’t notice you as much.”  

Read more from UofL News: How one UofL dental alumna helped break the school’s gender mold in the 1970s

March 9, 2022

Melissa Seibert, DMD '18

It’s not often that someone would choose to wear the title of “geek,” but for Melissa Seibert, DMD ‘18, that title is something she wears with pride. Being a self-described “dental geek,” Seibert has created a dental podcast that not only provides a continued education (CE) opportunity for dentists but allows her to host fellow dental geeks and talk about, unsurprisingly, dentistry.

Read more from UofL Alumni: Alumna helps fellow dentists continue education

September 22, 2021