Paula Vanbuskirk

Portraits in Chickasaw Strength and Resilience

Chickasaw Nation Chief of Dental Services Dr. Paula Vanbuskirk grew up learning about her Chickasaw heritage from her grandfather. "He was very important to me in my childhood and in my adult life. I spent most of my time tagging along outdoors with him and learning the Chickasaw heritage," she says. "He was very proud of his heritage, and he knew that being Chickasaw, I would have the support and encouragement that I needed to do whatever I wanted to do in life." And she knew early on that she wanted to be in the medical field and to work with children, pursuing a career in dentistry. "Dental health is very important for overall general health, we do know that. But more importantly, it is important for an individual to have good health mentally, spiritually."

After finishing dental school and with the support and encouragement of the Chickasaw Nation, she ventured to Colorado to achieve her career goals by completing her pediatric dental residency at the Children's Hospital in Denver. From there she opened a practice in Ada, which gave her a chance to grow as a provider. Although she enjoyed that connection with her patients, she realized she wanted to do something more. That's when she decided to serve her fellow tribal citizens, joining the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health as Chief of Dental Services. "It's just an amazing feeling to get up every morning, and then be inspired by what the day's going to bring. Children are just fun. They're exciting," she explains. "Working on children, it does bring back that inner feeling that I can do anything, and that everything's possible. The way they look at the world, I actually get to see that and interact with them, you know, each day, and it’s so fulfilling to have that opportunity."