Amidst the vast expanse of Dr. Srikar Vulugundam’s two-decade-long journey in dentistry and public health, a standout moment was his transformative involvement with WKU’s Mobile Dental Unit. This initiative not only exemplified his relentless passion for accessible dental care but also emphasized his broader commitment to public health.
Beyond the textbook qualifications, it’s his palpable dedication to underserved communities, from rural India to New Jersey health systems, that truly speaks volumes. A multifaceted professional, Dr. Vulugundam juggles roles as a dental director, adjunct assistant professor, and an influential voice in dental publications.
Dive in to explore the impactful world of a visionary dedicated to making dental care and public health synonymous with inclusivity and excellence.
Finding purpose in public health
Dr. Srikar Vulugundam attributes his deep-seated commitment to public health and underserved communities to the lasting impact of his parents’ dedication to healthcare. He reminisces, “My father is a retired pediatrician and my mother was a gynecologist. Growing up, I always witnessed their unwavering dedication to the underserved, instilling in me core values of empathy and service.” These early impressions not only shaped his values but also directed his academic pursuits, leading him to earn a Masters in Public Health.
During his academic journey, Dr. Vulugundam encountered the stark realities of healthcare disparities. “My masters gave me firsthand experience and exposure to the shortage of healthcare workforce in the rural underserved USA,” he notes.
This exposure cemented his resolution, helping him understand the pressing need to bridge the gap in healthcare accessibility. He is now driven by a mission to address these disparities and ensure equitable access to care for all.
Dr. Srikar Vulugundam’s experience with WKU’s Mobile Dental Unit offered a tangible insight into the frontline challenges and rewards of serving underserved communities. “Under the banner of IRH (Institute for Rural Health),” he recalls, “we had outreach programs that provided dental services across various terrains, from housing authorities to Amish communities, and even to multiple rural schools focusing on hygiene and dental sealant procedures.”
These outreach initiatives were not only about treatment but also about prevention and education. “Smile Kentucky,” for instance, was a dedicated program that educated elementary and middle school students about the importance of proper oral hygiene. Dr. Vulugundam notes, “These services help create a safety net of robust preventative practices, contributing significantly to the community’s overall health.”
Reflecting on the multifaceted exposure he gained through these programs, Dr. Vulugundam shared a profound realization: “This vast interaction reinforced an innate longing in me to prioritize public health programs.” This sentiment encapsulates his unwavering commitment to making a palpable difference in the world of public health.
Serving in underserved areas is a task laden with unique challenges, as Dr. Srikar Vulugundam knows all too well. “Most patients have complex medical needs,” he observes, noting that these needs are compounded by “lack of basic knowledge to process medical information, financial hardships, transportation challenges, and multiple other personal factors.” These challenges often result in patients’ non-compliance with their medical and dental appointments, leading to unresolved health issues.
Armed with a Masters in Public Health with a focus on health education, Dr. Vulugundam took proactive measures to bridge this gap. “Improving our patient’s knowledge through personal coaching and motivational interviews during one-on-one sessions, as well as through public health fairs and outreach events, became pivotal,” he says. His education played an essential role in equipping him to effectively communicate and educate patients about their health.
But addressing the knowledge gap was just one facet. Collaboratively with his team, he shares, “We developed policies and protocols that focus on providing ease of access to care, flexible schedules, medication support programs, and even passes for public transportation when available.”
By continually adapting to the unique challenges of his patient population, Dr. Vulugundam exemplifies a dedication to ensuring that every individual receives the best care possible.
Mentorship and leadership in dentistry
Dr. Srikar Vulugundam’s dedication extends far beyond the confines of the clinic, as he assumes a pivotal role in shaping the future of dental professionals. As the Dental Director at the heart of his organization’s dental services, he notes, “My roles encompass quality assurance, overseeing clinical care, hiring dental providers and staff, and representing the Dental Department in board meetings.”
Passionately, he endeavors to keep the department at the forefront by “developing policies and protocols to serve our underserved community with the latest materials and procedures.”
His dedication to mentorship shines through his past partnership with the UTHSC School of Dentistry, where he served as the UTHSC-Erlanger liaison and an Adjunct Assistant Professor. Furthermore, he plans to collaborate with the Rutgers School of Dentistry to create an off-site rotation training program. He characterizes this initiative as one crafted “to enhance the clinical skills of Rutgers Dental School students during their off-site rotations.”
Furthermore, he emphasizes the ethical dimension of his training: “Apart from clinical dentistry,” he shares, “focus on ethics-based dental practice is inculcated into students during their clinical rotations.” Ensuring that the students under his guidance internalize the importance of integrity in their profession.
Extending his influence beyond clinical mentorship, Dr. Vulugundam is deeply embedded in the academic realm of dentistry. “Apart from clinical dentistry,” he reveals, “I function as an Editorial Board Member for two globally renowned professional journals, and I recently joined as an executive editor for a global dental journal.”
Through these academic and mentorship roles, he ensures top-notch dental health services while championing broader public health objectives and upholding the highest research standards in dentistry.
Research meets real-world impact
Dr. Srikar Vulugundam’s research journey traces its roots to his time at WKU, where he delved into data collection related to public health programs. “My initial research was grounded in real-world public health scenarios during my WKU days,” he recalls.
His commitment to research has culminated in significant contributions to leading dental journals. Articles such as “Re-attachment of a Fractured Dental Incisor Segment” and “Composite Restorations: To Bevel or Not to?” have offered vital insights, aiding fellow dentists navigating similar challenges in public health contexts.
Dr. Vulugundam believes in the symbiotic relationship between research and public health. “Research, though often seen as abstract, is pivotal in enhancing public health services,” he emphasizes.
His dedication isn’t confined to writing alone. He serves on the editorial boards of prominent journals, including DS Journal and Dental Journal. Moreover, platforms like JADA and TDA Journal frequently call upon his expertise for peer reviews.
In sum, Dr. Vulugundam intertwines research with real-world impact. He champions the idea that “research and public health are intertwined in achieving our public health goals.” Through this ethos, he bridges academic advances with tangible benefits for communities.
A recognition of dedication
Awards and accolades are often seen as benchmarks of professional excellence. For Dr. Srikar Vulugundam, however, they hold a deeper resonance. These awards for my professional success denote my commitment and continued passion to excel in my profession,” he reflects. More than just symbols of achievement, these recognitions embody his fervor to instill “a sense of compassion toward the underserved communities among student communities and other health care professionals.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Vulugundam has been honored with several awards that highlight his dedication and prowess. Some of these include the New York Academy of Oral Rehabilitation Award 2013, achieving the second position for a poster presentation at the American College of Prosthodontics National conference 2011, and a series of Certificates of Merit in various dental disciplines spanning from 2001 to 2005. Dr. Vulugundam also received the distinguished “Erlanger Spotlight Award” in 2022 and the “Erlanger Spirit of Excellence Award” in 2023. Both accolades are bestowed upon individuals recognized for their outstanding contributions to both the organization and the broader community.
For the past decade, he has consistently attended state and national dental conferences, ensuring he remains at the forefront of advancements in dentistry. While each accolade marks a unique milestone, collectively they paint a picture of a professional who is consistently committed to pushing boundaries in public health dentistry.
For Dr. Vulugundam, these accolades aren’t just about personal triumphs but serve as a testament to his overarching vision that he had since his student days. “This is something I envisioned as a student,” he states, “and now I continue to strive and succeed every day in my professional career.” His journey, punctuated by these awards, serves as an inspiration to many, demonstrating that commitment to a cause and professional excellence can indeed go hand in hand.
Envisioning a healthier future
Rooted in his unwavering commitment to public health dentistry, Dr. Srikar Vulugundam has clear aspirations for the near future. In the immediate future, I see myself as a Dental Director running one of the successful public health dentistry programs,” he shares. Beyond his directorial ambitions, Dr. Vulugundam aims to merge his practical work with academia. He elaborates, “To cater to my academic interests, I will be establishing an off-site student rotation training program for one of the renowned universities in NJ, USA.”
Research and community service also remain pivotal to his future plans. Dr. Vulugundam expresses his intent to play a substantial role in “standardizing research publications for professional journals.” Simultaneously, he is eager to collaborate with state professional organizations to extend discounted dental services to the communities in dire need.
Yet, Dr. Vulugundam’s vision extends far beyond immediate goals. Looking further into the horizon, he wishes “to advocate for better health for all, through lobbying healthcare policies.” He believes that such efforts can significantly impact our society’s healthcare metrics, ultimately leading to improved health indicators and an enhanced quality of life for the underserved communities. It is evident that his drive and dedication will continue to illuminate his path, pushing boundaries in the realm of public health dentistry.
Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Srikar Vulugundam has proven to be more than just a dental professional. His work paints the portrait of a compassionate healer, dedicated mentor, and visionary leader in public health dentistry.
Drawing inspiration from his parents and rooted in his personal experiences, he has tirelessly worked to bridge healthcare disparities and serve underserved communities. As he navigates the challenges of public health dentistry and offers solutions, his emphasis on both clinical excellence and academic rigor underscores his holistic approach to the field.
Looking ahead, Dr. Vulugundam’s aspirations to further intertwine academia with practical service and to influence healthcare policies shine brightly, indicating that his journey of making lasting impacts in the realm of public health dentistry is far from over.