A Broad World View

Dr. Brian Hollander’s dental degree turns out to be a ticket to world travel

By Jody Ellis

Dr. Brian Hollander, DMD didn’t go into dentistry in order to see the world. Born in Minnesota and raised in Oregon, an aptitude for math and science led him to medicine. “I decided on dentistry because I had friends whose fathers were dentists and they seemed to have a good life balance and time for family, which appealed to me,” he says.

He attended the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry, where he was awarded the F. Edward Hébert Armed Services Health Professional scholarship. This required a two-year commitment to military service and took him to Germany, where he worked as a military dentist. Once his service was up he spent some time traveling through Europe before returning to the U.S.

Those international travels sparked a real wanderlust in him. When he was offered an opportunity to work in Cameroon, he jumped at it. From there he went to Kenya and then to India. “I’d always wanted to see Mt. Everest,” he says. “So I took a third class sleeper train across India, landing in Kathmandu. I did a 25-day trek to Mt. Everest.”

He became acquainted with the director of the Peace Corps there and was offered interim work at a mission hospital. “There were only 30 dentists in all of Nepal, and so much need for dental care that I ended up staying awhile,” he says. “Before I left, I drew a picture of an idea I had for building a dental clinic and left it with the American Embassy doctor.”

Hollander continued traveling and volunteering in various countries for two more years, going to Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia. “When I returned to Oregon, I’d been out of school for five years,” he says. “I was probably the poorest dentist you’d ever meet, but also the happiest. I was contemplating my future when I got a letter from Nepal. The Embassy had held onto that drawing I’d done of the dental clinic and actually built it. They asked if I’d consider coming back to Kathmandu to work there. I said yes immediately and agreed to a two-year stint.”

Those two years turned into almost 30. Hollander met his wife, a nurse who’d worked in refugee camps in Thailand, and they raised their two children there. “We visited family in the U.S. every summer. One year, a dentist that was to cover for me while I was gone told me about the Yukon-
Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Alaska, and how he’d worked in Hooper Bay,” he says. “I contacted them and worked in Hooper Bay for two summers.”

After falling in love with Alaska, he and his wife decided to move to Bethel. “I went from Kathmandu, with more than one million people, to Bethel [population 6,300]. You can imagine it was a bit of a culture shock,” he says. They lived and worked in Bethel for three years until he took a job with Alaska’s Southcentral Foundation as a tribal dentist.

Hollander now calls Anchorage home, but he still travels regularly to rural Alaska, which he sees as one of the most important aspects of his practice. “The people are so appreciative,” he says. “This is the only dental care they get all year. Developing a rapport and providing consistent care has made a big difference in their dental health.”

Brian Hollander didn’t decide to become a dentist so he could see the world. But somehow, that’s exactly what happened. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “No regrets,” he says. “It’s interesting how certain circumstances and opportunities can change the direction of your life.”