Nicole “Nikki” Gore
following article was written when Nikki
Gore, Crow Tribe of Montana, DMD, was in dental
school. Several updates follow. Currently Dr. Gore is
a staff dentist at the Crow/Northern Cheyenne IHS
Wants a Career in IHS
Crow Tribe of Montana, is happy to have completed the first
year of dental school, which was an intense, largely
didactic program in the basic sciences. This year she and
her classmates at Arizona School of Dental and Oral Health,
still have some lectures, but the Year 2 students spend a
lot of their time in the state-of-the art simulation lab
where they watch demonstrations and then, with faculty
assistance, practice these dental skills in their own
stations where each student has a dental chair and a
Gore’s mother is full-blood Crow. Her father is Anglo. Growing up in Hardin, Montana, just off the Crow reservation, was tough for Gore. When she did well in school, some teachers accused her of getting help from her white father. Sadly, some Indians also teased her when she did well, charging her with trying to be white.
The Crow/Northern Cheyenne IHS dental clinic was an oasis for Gore. There she felt care for and accepted for who she is. “The dentists were nice to me. When I was scared, they weren’t afraid to hold my hand. They didn’t care if I was Indian or white or what family I belonged to. They just treated me really well. It made such an impact on my young life that I knew I wanted to be a dentist.”
Gore was intrigued by how bodies work. She remembers being the only little girl present when the cattle were branded or butchered. When the men threw the cows’ heads off to the side, she looked carefully at them. She also hunted with her brother who taught her how to skin a rabbit.
Dealing with the taunts from two worlds got to be too much for Gore, so after he sophomore year in high school, she petitioned for entry into Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. In part she was drawn to this boarding school because her grandparents had been forced to go there. Gore’s petition was denied, but when she wrote a “heart felt letter” to the school, they accepted her.
Gore blossomed at Chemawa. In the summer between her junior and senior year, she attended the INMED program at the University of North Dakota. Upon graduating she did a summer externship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Gore was on the fast track, but several factors at this time in her life got in the way of her committing to becoming a dentist. She earned a dental assistant certificate from Sheridan Community College in Wyoming. Shortly after she started to work on a bachelor’s degree in biology, her father had a stroke, and she was called back home to help.
A few years later, with her mother’s encouragement, Gore began working as a dental aid for the Crow /Northern Cheyenne IHS Health Center where her mother has worked for more than 37 years, first as a nurse, then in medical records. During Gore’s more than 3 years at this facility, she participated in continuing education that enabled her to advance to a higher level as an expanded functions assistant.
Gore then met her husband, who was in the army. Ten months later they married and moved to Korea. Next they lived in Fort Stewart in Georgia where Gore went back to school part time and worked part time as a dental assistant. “As a dental assistant, I realized how much I missed dental work,” she remembers. Gore, however, lacked confidence in her abilities and thought she was too old to become a dentist. Fortunately, her husband saw things differently “Dentistry is your passion,” he argued. “You need to be a dentist. I think you can do it.’”
Gore worked hard in school, first in Georgia where her husband was stationed and then in Colorado when he was transferred to Ft. Carson. During this time, she gave birth to a little girl who she had to raise largely on her own because her husband was a busy drill sergeant and also spent a year in Iraq. Finally Gore finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.
Gore’s husband retired from the army. For a year Gore focused on being a full time mother and wife as the family reconnected. Then drawn by its public health mission and its use of educational technology, Gore applied to the AT Still dental school. “When I was accept I broke down sobbing,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that these smart people believed in me. It’s a wonderful school. They care about you and even know you by name.”
“I want to work in IHS for the long haul,” says Gore. “I want to work near Chemawa Indian School so that I can do even more than provide dental services. Some of the Indian Youth at Chemawa are troubled. I want to be able to tell them, ‘If I can do this, there’s no reason you can’t. You’re going to fall, but you’re going to get back up. Every time you fall down and get back up, that’s a lesson learned.’
Gore’s husband, her father, both grandfathers, and numerous uncles and cousins have been in the military service, so later in her career Gore also wants to work for the VA.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist, Buffalo Gouge, Creek and Cherokee, works with bright colors. Portraits are his main interest. For more information visit Art Exchange Galleries.)
Update August 2008
As a fourth year student Nikki Gore is studying for Part II of the Boards and completing required competencies. She is also doing five clinical rotations outside of the her school’s clinic, including an externship at a community health center dental clinic in Billings, Montana and a rotation at a homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix. For the second year in a row she is the student chapter president of SAID-ASDOH (Society of American Indian Dentists-Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health).
Nikki’s daughter is now in third grade and her husband is still working at two jobs. “Life is wonderful and we are all blessed to be healthy and happy,” says Nikki.
Update June 2009
Nikki Gore, DMD, graduated from dental school on June 13th, which was also her 40th birthday. A very special day, indeed! Dr. Gore will be employed by the Indian Health Service and is working at securing a practice site. When she gets settled, she wants to serve as a tutor. She wants to concentrate on AI/AN students but is open to working with other students as well. She says, "I will continue being a mentor to those students who are interested in pursuing a career in dentistry. I hope to continue giving hope to those who are searching and to continue Dr. Blue Spruce's work of inspiration and accomplishment."
Update March 2010
Dr. Nicole (“Nikki”) Gore has returned home, completing the circle, in a sense, but not her journey. She is now a staff dentist at the Crow/Northern Cheyenne IHS dental clinic. This clinic was her oasis as a child as well as a source of inspiration for becoming a dentist. Nikki and her husband and daughter live in Sheridan, Wyoming, which is 80 miles from the clinic, but Nikki writes that they live near the beautiful foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, making the commute “sooooo worth it.”
Nikki and her husband are very proud of their 10-year-old daughter who continues to excel in school and is involved in music and other extracurricular activities. “We cherish and love her,” says Nikki. “She is our heart.” Nikki attributes their daughter’s success to the joint (clearly loving) parenting that she and her husband provide.