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Back Down to Earth - HSNT Board Member Spotlight

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Dr. Dean Perkins

It’s not uncommon for people to bounce around different careers in their lifetimes. Passions change, priorities change, and sometimes life just makes those decisions for you. For Dr. Dean Perkins, these decisions were ones he made himself, but it’s nonetheless surprising to learn that someone who started college thinking he was going to be a biologist ended up being a pilot for the Rockefeller family – and that was before becoming a dentist.

“I started learning to fly when I was still an undergraduate,” Dr. Perkins says. “I wanted to be a research biologist for the Fish and Game commission…but I started learning to fly and that caught my attention, so while I was in school, I got a private pilot’s license. When I graduated, I had a decision to make: I had already been accepted as a biologist for the Fish & Game Commission for Illinois, but I decided to fly. I got a commercial license and an instructor’s rating – that’s how I started out.”

As so often happens in careers like this, once Dr. Perkins got into the network of fellow pilots, he met many different people, and a friend of a friend just so happened to know that opening for the Rockefeller family. For 5 years Dr. Perkins flew for the family, mostly for Winthrop Rockefeller during his time as governor of Arkansas. So how did he make it from being a corporate pilot to being a dentist?

“Well, I got interested in dentistry in ’61 [before I flew commercially]. Back then, you either got drafted or enlisted so joined I the [Arkansas] National Guard, which was based at Fort Smith, and I worked as a flight instructor. And a position they had available, believe it or not, was dental assistant! A friend of a friend told me he knew the dentist there for the squadron, and the dentist said ‘well, you’ve got a degree in biology, that’s close enough. We’ll make a dental assistant out of you!’”

Dr. Perkins’s time in the National Guard is where he got interested in dentistry, but it’s also where he started pursuing his flight career in earnest. It wasn’t until he decided to hang up his pilot’s hat that he returned to the field of dentistry.

“After I got out of dental school, I was in private practice for about 10 years,” says Dr. Perkins. “Then I got the call to public health. I moved to Missouri and was the state dental director for the Missouri Department of Health for almost 20 years. I was Executive Director of the National Association of State Dental Directors for about 10 years.”

Dr. Perkins moved to Texas years ago in an effort to stay close to his children and grandchildren. After joining the Denton Rotary Club, Dr. Perkins met HSNT’s CEO, Doreen Rue, at one of the Club’s meetings – and from there, the rest is history.

“As soon as she heard my background, [Doreen] recruited me to the board. This is my first time on the board for a [Federally Qualified Health Center]. I interacted with FQHCs significantly when I was a state dental director, so I kind of knew the background of what it was. It seemed like Doreen wanted to bolster the board with [additional members with] experience in public health.”

Dr. Perkins uses his experience to help with HSNT’s yearly Strategic Planning and to serve on the Quality Committee, and he’s glad that even though he might not be flying 30,000 feet in the air anymore, he still feels as though he’s doing something that makes a difference.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life in public health…I still have that part of me. FQHCs play a huge role in public health and being able to have some input on how things run is still important to me. I very much enjoy doing it – and I feel like I’m still making a contribution.”