Serving those who served
Alvin Wee, DDS, PhD, MPH, wears plenty of hats in his position at the School of Dentistry. He is the Director of the Division of Prosthodontics, a leader in care for patients with complex oral rehabilitation needs and a researcher focusing on color sciences and early detection of oral cancer. But one of the obligations he treasures most happens outside the walls of Moos Tower: serving in private practice at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.
Wee has 11 years of experience working with veterans, starting during his tenure at Creighton University in Nebraska, where he was recruited by Allan Hancock, Chief of Dental Service at Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System. “Dr. Hancock’s vision was to establish a Regional Center for Excellence in Maxillofacial Prosthodontics,” Wee explained.
And it worked: Wee enjoyed the work so much that for five years, he left full time academics and became a full-time staff at the VA “to treat veterans, carry out my research program and teach at Creighton University on a part-time basis.”
Wee is no stranger to veterans, having been born in Singapore and serving over two years in the state’s compulsory military service himself. “With that history, I appreciate and value the military culture and its members,” he explained. “I try to bring that deeper understanding and gratitude to the patients that I am privileged to treat at the VA.”
At the Minneapolis VA, Wee brings his prosthodontic and rehabilitative experience to bear. “Many veterans need complex restorative rehabilitation, and so I find the prosthodontic practice at the VA to be challenging, stimulating and supportive.” But it’s more than just challenging, stimulating work. “It is exciting to be part of an organization that is providing support to veterans who have served the nation and thus deserve the best dental care.”
Wee appreciates the ways he can experience veteran culture when he cares for his patients. “They are on time, respectful, diligent to expect the best care, but also very appreciative of the dental care they receive,” he said. And “they are very proud of their service to our nation. I am honored when they share their stories and military accomplishments with me.”
In fact, this work has been so meaningful for Dr. Wee that it inspired another change for him. “My work at the VA inspired me to become a naturalized citizen of this great country. Since Singapore does not allow dual citizenship, I gave up my Singapore citizenship,” he said. “As a naturalized citizen of the US, I am grateful to the veterans who have served our nation.”
The pride and gratitude goes both ways: in 2017, Wee was the national recipient of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Clinical Excellence in Dentistry Award.
But he doesn’t do the work for recognition: he truly loves the work. “For the past 11 years, I have had the privilege of serving veterans,” he said. “I truly enjoy treating dental patients at the VA and collaborating as a team to provide excellent care to our veterans.”