Dentist makes hometown return

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November 7, 2011 - 12:00 AM

No one ever told Ryan Coffield you can’t go home again. The 28-year-old is back in Iola after a 10-year hiatus studying dentistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and working in an underserved area in central North Dakota.
Coffield, a 2001 graduate of Iola High School, joined Dr. Vernon Lee’s dentistry office last month — Lee’s first general dentistry partner since the mid-1980s.
“Dr. Lee has been here for 41 years providing an excellent level of care and my goal is to continue that level of care and treatment for the patients of Iola for a long time to come,” Coffield said.  
Although Lee and Coffield’s partnership is only a month old, Lee’s role in Coffield’s career started years ago. While earning an undergraduate degree at Kansas University in 2005 and wondering what career field to pursue, Coffield made the 65-mile trip from Lawrence to Iola to spend a day with Lee and watch a dentist in action.
“I was always interested in health care and I took a look at all the different health care fields,” Coffield said. “I did a lot of shadowing and even came here and shadowed Dr. Lee.”
The time spent with Lee sealed Coffield’s fate.
“It was when I knew it was going to work out for me,” Coffield said. “It seemed like a good profession and good work and it’s nice to help people.”
Lee said even when Coffield shadowed his practice there was always the potential for a future partnership.  
“I was really happy to see him going into dentistry and was hoping that in the future he would come back to Iola,” the senior dentist said.
Coffield said he’s well on his way to getting acclimated to life in Iola — buying a house and reconnecting with old friends.
“I’m excited about putting down some roots,” he said.
After graduating from UNL’s dentistry program in 2009, Coffield spent two years in Devils Lake, N.D. working for Public Health Service on a student loan reimbursement program.
“I was working for an underserved population. There was a population of 6,000 people and I was the only full-time general dentist,” he said. “We were the only clinic so we got to see a lot of extreme things and got to help a lot of people that needed it.”
Toughing out two winters on the North Dakota tundra was enough for Coffield.
“North Dakota is not as cold feeling as the thermometer might say, but the winters were very, very long and that was the rough part,” he said. “When the lake doesn’t thaw until the end of April or early May, it gets to be feeling interminable.”
Coffield said his truck also got a bit tired of the location.
“I’ve put on 60,000 miles in my truck in the two years I’ve had it driving back and forth,” he said referring to the 14-hour, 860-mile drive from Iola to Devils Lake.
Coffield, typically taking patients Monday through Thursday, has plans to purchase the dentist office from Lee when he decides to retire, although that might not be for some time.
“I’m extremely happy to have someone of Dr. Coffield’s caliber here and it is very nice to have him. It makes it an easier transition for everyone concerned,” Lee said referring to his eventual retirement. “But I’ll be around for a while yet.”
Having Coffield on board not only ensures Lee’s practice will continue in the future, it allows both to offer more services to Iolans.
“It’s nice to be able to provide more services here without needing to refer as much,” Lee said.

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