A Second Chance To Serve
LCDR Casey Burns, DO, Dental Corps, USN
“I love being stationed overseas; my husband loves being stationed overseas. In the past 6-7 years, I’ve gotten to travel to over 30 countries.”
— LCDR Casey Burns, DO, Dental Corps, USN
When Dr. Casey Burns was invited to attend the Naval Academy’s summer program in Annapolis as a high school student, she thought twice about it. Overwhelmed with thoughts of what military service might entail, she decided not to go.
“When I was in college and considering dental school, I saw a Navy poster in my science building that read, ‘Pay for medical and dental school.’ I had taken out loans to go to undergraduate school, and I received scholarships as well. But I went to a private school, and it was pretty expensive. I knew that dental school would be even more expensive – it’s $200,000. So initially I looked into the Navy as a way to pay for school. It’s kind of ironic that after being too intimidated to go to the Navy’s summer program as a high school student that I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a cool idea!’ when I saw the poster in college.”
But, in fact, LCDR Burns went from being intimidated by military service as a teenager to fully immersing herself in the experience as an adult.
“The more that I’ve discovered about the Navy as I’ve been a part of it, the more I realize how many great opportunities I’ve had because of it. When I joined the Navy, I decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all in. That’s why I ended up in Okinawa, Japan, first and then I had the opportunity right after Okinawa to go to Naples, Italy. I was overseas for six years.”
Overseas service became one of the greatest joys for LCDR Burns and something she and her husband sought out rather than avoided.
“We considered getting out after I was stationed in Japan, but then we had the opportunity to go to Italy. When I talked to my husband about it, he said, ‘You know, I think you have to take that offer, Casey.’ So we did and then of course at the end of Italy, they offered us the Naval Academy in Annapolis. These are cool places to be stationed and cool places to live, cool places to travel, and every duty station has had some unique dental patients. Every place has been just a little different, and so that keeps it interesting.”
Being able to treat patients around the world has presented LCDR Burns with some unique cases and different attitudes toward treatment. Experiences she was not likely to encounter in a civilian dental practice.
“I think most foreign patients are a little more used to pain than patients in the states. They were very grateful – absolutely grateful – but there was less apprehension and more excitement that they were getting treated. I had many foreign patients who asked me not to numb them, which I thought was a little surprising. I wanted to do what I could to make sure they were comfortable, but they were just happy they were able to get dental care at all. The pain was of no concern to them.”
In addition to the diverse experiences she gained as a dentist in both Japan and Italy, LCDR Burns also had the opportunity to go on a humanitarian outreach mission in the Southern Philippines.
“When we got to the Southern Philippines, I was the only female dentist in the group. There was a girl who came to one of the towns where we were administering dentistry out of the schoolhouse, doing mainly extractions and treating infection. This girl came in, and she was wearing a face veil. She wanted me to see her because there are limitations in her culture about who can see a girl’s face. It was really moving to be the female dentist who could see her and treat her. When she moved her veil aside, I saw that she had a full cleft lip and palate that had never been treated, and she was probably 15 or 16 years old at the time.
“We were able to assess her medical condition, and we talked about the kinds of barriers that she’s had in life because of it. Her parents were concerned because they hadn’t found a husband for their daughter because they’re afraid she might be killed or that the husband’s family would be very angry when they see under the veil.
“We were able to set up a contact for a cleft palate team to come and treat her. I never saw the outcome of that case, but the whole experience was powerful.”
Perfectly Suited For Navy Service After All
Being able to travel and see the world. Treating patients from different cultures and witnessing different attitudes toward dental treatment. Seeing unusual cases while on humanitarian outreach missions. And feeling as though you’re actually making a difference in the quality of people’s lives around the globe. These are the kinds of unique opportunities that serving as a dentist in the Navy can provide you. LCDR Burns’s experience has been more than she ever expected and more than she thought she could handle when she was a girl. Turns out she was perfectly suited for practicing dentistry and being a leader in America’s Navy.
“There are unique possibilities and experiences to gain in the Navy. I received training for advanced general dentistry residency, and when I was with the Marines, I did jungle-warfare training and martial arts, gas masks and all these things that you hear about but never actually do if you’re a dentist. But in the Navy, you get to do those things. All these opportunities that my classmates from dental school are not getting to experience. I think these kinds of unique experiences are what’s really cool about being in the Navy.”
— LCDR Casey Burns, DO, Dental Corps, USN