Born to Serve

By Janice Hussein, MBA, MS

Dr. Elizabeth (Libbi) Finnessy, owner of Bellevue Dental Health, a general and cosmetic dental practice in Washington, believes giving back means changing people’s lives. “I remember growing up and reading Emerson, who said, ‘To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded,’” she says. “That will forever be my definition as well. I want to make people’s lives better. And I have an incredibly unique skill set to offer back to others.”

Finnessy recalls the endodontist at the University of Michigan who recognized her gift for serving others. “I emailed her to see if she needed an assistant in her microbiology lab, and she hired me to do DNA fingerprinting and the likes,” she says. “The specialist quickly realized that with my gregarious personality, I wasn’t meant to be a ‘lab rat,’ so she nudged me into the dental clinic. I shadowed dental students, chatted with dentists and continued to explore what this world of dentistry was all about.”

After graduating with a biomedical sciences degree, she attended Marquette University’s School of Dentistry. A Midwest native, she briefly practiced dentistry in Wisconsin before moving to the Northwest.

“I wanted to be where there were mountains,” Finnessy says. “And when I came out to visit Seattle, the weather was perfect. I went sailing… and then the rain came. But I made it an adventure, and at least I didn’t have to shovel the rain, so I was happy with that.” To keep in touch with her Wisconsin roots, she’s become a huge Packers fan and joined the Northwest Packer Backer’s group.

She very much enjoys working with people of all ages at her dental practice. “My philosophy is very care based; it’s more about overall health and wellness,” she says. “I like the long-term interaction with people—kids grow up, families form, and people develop and grow in their work.”

Finnessy’s first sojourn into charitable work was with women and children escaping domestic violence. “They didn’t have access to care,” she says. “I work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the home—these people who don’t believe they have anything to smile about, or who hate looking at themselves. I give them a gift of health… and a shift. They can now look in the mirror and feel good, not just on the outside, but feel better on the inside, too.

“I had some personal experience with domestic violence, and some angels helped me through it,” she adds. “I will never be able to repay them for what they did for my daughter and me, so I pay it forward to make people’s lives better when they’re most in need.”

From there, she expanded her charitable work to Guatemala. Initially, she reached out to another Washington state dentist who had gone there before. “We met for a beer and the rest is history. Six dentists went and [worked] on the concrete floor of a basketball court, using wooden benches in 100 degree heat. Hard work for sure—but unbelievably rewarding.”

Last year she went to Guatemala for eight days. On the trip the team was able to care for over 600 patients. “It was a real eye-opener into the core of humans. I’m so glad I was able to go there and bring care.

“My favorite part of the trip was the gratitude from people who have absolutely nothing when it comes to material things, but everything when it comes to love,” Finnessy says. “They’re delightful, and appreciative, and proud of family and the food they make. It shows you don’t need material things to have laughter and joy. It’s a different perspective.”

In 2018 she plans to travel to Antigua. “We want to bring awareness, help the economy and encourage other dentists to give back. Whether monetarily or with time, we all need to help somehow. It’s our duty as humans. The world runs on trust and on us helping each other. My parents instilled this in me. I wanted to fulfill that in my life and set a good example for my daughter, Ella.”

Finnessy’s advice to other dentists with a passion for helping people? “Just do it. Set a goal or see someone that’s done it and ask questions. Whether it’s something small—a pro bono patient—or something larger. Giving back means changing people’s lives. It’s a must.”