Connected to their communities
Victoria Gokee: Homeward bound
When Victoria Gokee completes her doctor of dental surgery degree at the University of Minnesota in two years, she is headed home to the southern shores of Lake Superior where she grew up surrounded by a large extended family and fellow members of the Red Cliff Tribe of Ojibwe.
“After literally living around the world, I can confidently say that my heart is drawn to my ancestral homeland,” she says. “People often talk about being ‘stuck on the reservation.’ I choose to return to serve my tribe as a dentist and show future generations that growing up on a reservation doesn't hinder what we are capable of achieving.”
Gokee had several options for dental school but ultimately chose the University of Minnesota. While she says the School of Dentistry has been a perfect fit so far, her first semester did not start out as she had envisioned. Her daughter, Bagamwewekamigishkamookwe, was born two days before the first day of class, causing her to miss the important first three weeks of dental school.
“I established a lot of relationships with faculty and administration,” she says. “They were all understanding and flexible, but also made sure that I skipped nothing. The program is rigorous and builds on itself.”
Gokee’s husband Joseph, also a University of Minnesota student, majoring in Ojibwe language, took primary responsibility for their baby that first semester, bringing her to school at scheduled times between classes for feedings with her mom. Gokee closed out the first semester in step with her classmates.
After completing dental school Gokee plans to work as a general dentist for Indian Health Service on the Red Cliff or nearby Bad River reservation.
“We have always had a high rate of turnover in dentists,” Gokee says about the dentists on those reservations. “There is no opportunity to build a trusting relationship because the providers seem to come out of nowhere, then they’re gone after six months to a year. I want others to feel the same excitement I had going to the dentist, and the feel of regular hygiene appointments and clean teeth. I want to build relationships."
Jennifer Enich: Eager to serve in a rural community
With just 39 students in her high school graduating class, Jennifer Enich could play any varsity sport she wanted, beginning in eighth grade. There were no try-outs and everyone was encouraged to participate.
“The opportunities and the encouragement were huge,” says Enich, who grew up in Side Lake, Minnesota, and attended Chisholm High School. “I am who I am today because of the people in my small community.”
The fourth-year University of Minnesota dental student has fond memories of a close-knit community where people cared for each other and one person’s success was cause for community celebration. Enich and her sister would often walk a few blocks to their father’s dental practice after school to wait for their ride home. It was there she observed all aspects of running a dental office, from patient care to patient scheduling to equipment purchasing to lab work to insurance billing.
Enich attended University of Minnesota Duluth for her undergraduate education, and served a four-week clinical rotation in Willmar, Minnesota, where the School of Dentistry partners with Carris Health Center to provide health and dental care to the community. She did an earlier rotation in Hibbing, which also helped to prepare her for a return to northern Minnesota as a dentist next year.
“I have now lived in a small town, a medium sized city and the Twin Cities, and these experiences have affirmed my desire to live in a small community,” says Enich. “People in every community deserve high quality dental care.”