Dr. Sara Stuefen (’10 DDS) grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa and is now a practicing dentist in Vinton, the 5,000 person county seat of Benton County, Iowa. Stuefen has been a model of giving back to the college, to the dental profession, and to Vinton.
Stuefen is a Hawkeye through and through; but for her, it isn’t about sports.
“I’m a Hawkeye because of the dental education available at Iowa—we really know how to train future dentists. Your degree from Iowa immediately earns you respect in the field,” Stuefen said. What sets Iowa-trained dentists apart is their clinical training. “When I graduated I felt I had a solid foundation to start my career. I knew other dentists that didn’t get the same experiences that we did in school. ”
After graduation, Stuefen wanted to practice dentistry in a small town where she could develop the deep and long-lasting relationships with her patients that she had seen in her own small town environment. It just so happened that Dr. Alan Woodhouse (‘69 DDS), a dentist in Vinton, was selling his practice and it was the perfect opportunity for Stuefen.
Even when she was just starting out her practice, Stuefen believed it was important to give back to the college that had trained her. She began teaching each Thursday as an adjunct faculty member in the UI Department of Family Dentistry. For fourth-year dental students, adjunct faculty like Stuefen oversee their education as they go from timid clinical beginners to competent and independent clinicians.
Stuefen’s own experiences as a young dentist teaching dental students gave her a deep appreciation for the challenges that new dentists face. In 2015, she started and chaired the New Dentist Committee for the Iowa Dental Association (IDA). That same year, she was awarded the New Dentist of the Year Award by the IDA, and she now serves on the American Dental Association’s New Dentist Committee as a representative for much of the Midwest region. As such, Stuefen takes seriously the role of advocating on behalf of new dentists, whether it involves talking about the current concerns of new dentists, like the amount of student loan debt, or improvements in dental education.
But she is also particularly passionate about promoting the issues that are important for new dentists serving in rural areas and small towns, a key demographic in her region.
“This is a big issue, and new dentists often miss what’s beautiful about practicing in a small town. It’s great to forge close relationships with your patients, and you’ll be able to promote your new practice using just word of mouth,” Stuefen said. “Small communities have a lot to offer for dentists who want to make a difference—whether in the local schools, sports, or other activities.”
And Stuefen has been making a difference. In 2017, she served as the chair of the Iowa Mission of Mercy, a large-scale two-day free dental clinic that serves thousands of patients across Iowa each year. That same year, she was also appointed as a Fellow of the International College of Dentists in recognition of her “outstanding professional achievement, meritorious service and dedication to the continued progress of dentistry for the benefit of humankind.” She also served on the board of the University District Dental Society from 2012–2017, and she served as president during her last year. She also served as a liaison to the ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws, and Judicial Affairs.
Despite her work on behalf of the dental profession in Iowa and across the country, she also finds time to give back to her local community in Vinton. In February, she continued her annual tradition of having children from the local elementary school visit her clinic for Children’s Dental Health Month. She also serves as a board member for Virginia Gay Hospital, is past President of the Lions Club, and participates in several local health fairs. You will also regularly see local students shadowing her or her dental assistants and hygienists as they are exploring various dental careers.
Since she graduated with her dental degree in 2010, Stuefen has made a positive impact—in Vinton, in Iowa, and in the dental profession.