A journey of reinvention

Dr. Karen Campbell

Dr. Karen Campbell has spent the entirety of her adult life inventing and reinventing herself — a process that has made the Schulich Dentistry alumna a better teacher, leader and paediatric dentist

By Jesica Hurst, BA’14

The early 1980s were a time of excitement, possibility and new developments for Dr. Karen Campbell.

Shortly after graduating from Schulich Dentistry in the spring of 1982, Dr. Campbell and her husband, Roy, welcomed their first son. With the economic downturn and their eyes set on a better future, the couple made the decision to up-root their young family and relocate to Iroquois Falls.

“Times were really good for us there for a number of years,” Dr. Campbell said. “I set up a small dental practice and my husband worked in a gold mine. We were comfortable. Our second son was born there.”

But with the rise in popularity of the personal computer and the Internet came a decline in the pulp and paper industry that had been supporting the small town they called home. The bottom began to fall out of the newsprint market, and people lost their jobs and their health benefits. Dr. Campbell saw the writing on the wall.

“That was the first of many times in my career that I had to adapt and reconfigure my career trajectory,” she said. The health professional decided it would make the most sense to sell the practice and move back to London where she would have more opportunities and connections.

Working within her network in London, Dr. Campbell practised in various clinical settings in public health and private practice. And having the opportunity to treat mostly children and teach part-time at Schulich Dentistry in the Division of Paediatric Dentistry opened her eyes to how much she enjoyed engaging with students and trainees.

Always looking to improve herself, Dr. Campbell decided to complete a three-year combined MSc degree and clinical diploma program in paediatric dentistry at the University of Toronto after 20 years of practice. This accomplishment guided her into specialty practice, and into a greater teaching role at Schulich Dentistry.

Shortly after Dr. Campbell made this career shift, her husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She supported him as he underwent treatment on and off for more than two years. He passed away from the disease in 2009.

Dr. Campbell once again found herself at a turning point. The Schulich Dentistry alumna told herself she had only two options — to retire completely, or dive deeper into her work.

“Everyone says that you shouldn’t make any important decisions after you face a major life event, but I didn’t listen to that advice at all,” she said with a laugh. “In fact, I did the exact opposite.”

Dr. Campbell was offered a position at the University of British Columbia (UBC) that would allow her to teach in the school’s new Graduate Program in Paediatric Dentistry. She accepted immediately.

“I knew very little about UBC or Vancouver, so making the decision to take on the role was both an adventure and a leap of faith,” she explained. “But once I sold my house and moved out here in 2010, I received wonderful mentorship and started my work with really great colleagues.”

Dr. Campbell is now Chief of Dentistry at BC Children’s Hospital, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of UBC’s Graduate Program in Paediatric Dentistry.

A leader in her field, Dr. Campbell credits her education at Schulich Dentistry with preparing her for the many changes she’s encountered throughout her career.

“I truly believe I received my dental education in the golden era of dentistry, as I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best professors,” she said. “Those years strengthened my ability to adapt to the many hats I’ve had the opportunity to wear.”