Dean, School of Dental Medicine, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

As Las Vegas grows as a medical destination for patients and their families; The School of Dental Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is part of that development. Under the guidance and leadership of Karen P. West, D.M.D., one in six prospective dental students apply to the School of Dental Medicine.

Karen West, Dean of the School of Dental Medicine, on July 16, 2008.
Client: Debbie Hare / School of Dental Medicine
/ UNLV Photo Services / R. Marsh Starks
As the only accredited, four-year dental school in the state of Nevada, the services and programs provided by the school has had a profound impact on Southern Nevada. Its seven clinics provide more than $1.3 million of free dental care and oral cancer screenings to low-income and disadvantaged Nevadans annually, serving homeless teens, children with special needs, women who are victims of domestic abuse and veterans. The clinics also help educate and prepare more than 300 dental health professionals every year.

The school has also hosted leaders from dental schools in other countries who are seeking international accreditation, and Dr. West has traveled to dental schools in Saudi Arabia and China, to name a few, to offer reviews and counsel pertaining to international accreditation and curriculum guidelines.

Dr. West worked as a private practitioner in Kentucky before joining the academic ranks at the Medical College of Georgia, where she taught in the community dentistry department and was the director of the Children and Youth Dental Clinic. She later joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, serving first as a clinical team leader and later as associate dean for academic affairs.

I had always enjoyed science… I wanted to become a dentist and help make it better.

“As a child I had a lot of dental problems and I was at the dentist quite a bit. I had always enjoyed science and even then I wanted to become a dentist and help make it better,” she explained. “My goal was to make dentistry not so scary and teach other students how to interact with patients so they feel comfortable.”

She was also inspired to become a teacher by her family members who taught including her grandmother, mother and cousins. Her academic work focuses on population-based clinical studies, oral health promotion, oral cancer prevention and gender-based research. A former president of the Society for Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, Dr., West has been involved in both educational research and women’s health research. She is also a consultant for the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

As for her move to Southern Nevada, the first time Dr. West visited Las Vegas was for her interview at UNLV. “It was a new experience for me. But I was excited because at the time, it was a new school and a great opportunity to build and develop a new curriculum with a focus on public health,” she explained.

Dr. West obtained her bachelor of arts in biology from the University of Louisville, masters of public health in health administration from the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and doctor of dental medicine degree from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. Her expertise includes oral health education, community health outreach, national and international health care accreditation and curriculum design.

She is excited about the visibility the new medical school at UNLV will bring to Southern Nevada. “We offer continuing education to dentists who come from all over the country to attend UNLV courses, so the addition of the medical school will only enhance the draw of Las Vegas.” Dr. West is excited about the growth of the university and the development of Las Vegas as a healthcare destination whether in education, dental or medical services.