Military Veterans Continue their Service at Seton Hill Center for Orthodontics
Drs. Heidi Novak, Christopher Gregoire and Allen Sara are not your typical Seton Hill University Orthodontic residents.
Of course, all three earned both bachelor’s degrees and dental degrees in order to attend Seton Hill’s orthodontic program – just like every other resident.
But the trio – all U.S. military veterans – have experienced life in a much different way than many of their peers.
Novak, a third-year resident, spent 10 years in the Navy and Navy Reserves; Gregoire, a first-year resident, spent nine years in the Navy and Navy reserves; and Sara, a first-year resident, served in the U.S. Army for eight years and is currently in the Army Reserves.
Dr. Daniel Rinchuse, Director of the Seton Hill University Center for Orthodontics, said the three veterans bring a multitude of talents to the program.
“These are a few words that describe our military orthodontic residents: Integrity, leadership, maturity, commitment, trustworthy, patience, multitasking,” he said. “Veterans are often described as the most deserving. They have certainly added to the diversity of our program.”
Novak was the first of the veterans to attend the Seton Hill program, and she recruited Gregoire and Sara.
Novak, a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, heard about Seton Hill through orthodontics program alumna Dr. Lauren Busch, a close friend. Novak graduated from the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and dental school programs, earning her dental degree on the Health Professional Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to civilian medical and dental schools in exchange for military service. She spent four years in the Navy Reserves during her time in dental school.
She spent six years in the active-duty Navy upon graduation from dental school. She served one year at the Naval Station Norfolk Dental Clinic, three years aboard the USS Mesa Verde as Dental Department Head, and two years at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Dr. Novak plans to return to Michigan after graduating from the Seton Hill Orthodontics program in December and has a position at an orthodontics practice with a family friend.
Dr. Gregoire, a native of Scarborough, Maine, attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. for his undergraduate degree and then attended the University of Maryland for dental school through the Health Professions Scholarship Program.
During his time in dental school, he served in the U.S. Navy Reserves and then entered the active-duty Navy after graduation, where he served for five years.
During his time in the Navy, Gregoire served the needs of sailors and Marines as a dentist at various duty stations, including the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth; aboard the USS Tortuga, an amphibious warship; at on-shore dental clinics, including Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story; and aboard the USS Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier.
He practiced as a dentist for a year after leaving the Navy before enrolling in the Orthodontics program at Seton Hill.
Dr. Sara, a native of Prescott, Arizona, took a different path to dentistry. He graduated from The United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an Infantry Officer in the active-duty Army from 2008 to 2016.
His active-duty service included a 12-month deployment to Iraq. He was stationed around the country including at Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where he was a company commander in the 101st Airborne Division.
He left active duty in 2016 and joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and served as an assistant professor of military science at Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan ROTC programs.
In 2018, Sara entered dental school at the University of Michigan, graduating earlier this year before entering the orthodontic program at Seton Hill. He continues to serve as a Major in the Army Reserves 4-413th SROTC Battalion.
All three said their military service has been one that has greatly influenced their time in the Orthodontics program at Seton Hill.
“You can definitely tell the three of us have more leadership qualities because of our time in the military and the real-world experience we gained,” Dr. Novak said. “I think our classmates look to us for guidance as well.”
The Seton Hill Center for Orthodontics serves many patients from families with low income – particularly those who receive state aid. The veterans said some of their best experiences have been with those patients.
“The military is a big cross section of America,” Dr. Sara said. “I had to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, and that’s what we do here. We provide people with the same high level of care regardless of who they are or where they come from.”
Added Dr. Gregoire, “The vast majority of our patients would lack access to affordable orthodontic care if not for Seton Hill.”
They also appreciate the fact that as residents at the Seton Hill Center for Orthodontics, they are involved hands-on in all aspects of a patient’s treatment. If a patient needs a tooth extracted, for example, they are reaching out to outside dentists or oral surgeons to get that procedure scheduled, which is what they would do when they are practicing. At orthodontics programs attached to large dental schools, they would just refer to someone at the school.
“We’re setting ourselves up much better to be able to treat a variety of cases when we graduate,” Dr. Gregoire said.
When he decided to leave the military, Dr. Sara said he was looking for a profession that had a similar camaraderie. He decided he could find that in the medical community and was particularly drawn to dentistry.
“I like talking with people. It’s a very social profession,” he said.
Dr. Sara has started a nonprofit to encourage more military veterans to enter the medical profession in some way. Through his efforts, seven veterans entered dental or medical school last year – and he hopes to encourage more.
“I think veterans in the dental and medical community only enhance it,” he said.
For more information on the Seton Hill University Center for Orthodontics, visit www.shusmiles.com or call 724-552-2950.