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Dentist finds purpose with Army Reserve

September 19, 2016

By Jennifer Garvin


Dr. Endow
Downey, Calif. — In 2011, with nearly 20 years of dentistry under his belt, Dr. John Endow was looking for a new challenge.

He found it in the U.S. Army Reserve.

"It's such a good feeling to serve your country," said Dr. Endow, a periodontist. "I'm proud of putting on the uniform and acting as a soldier."

Dr. Endow is one of many dental professionals looking to serve a higher purpose through service and humanitarian efforts in the Army Reserve.

A native of West Los Angeles, Calif., Dr. Endow graduated from the University of California at Riverside before attending dental school at the Northwestern University College of Dentistry. After graduating in 1987, he furthered his education with a two-year residency in periodontics as well as completing an Advanced Education in General Dentistry program.

He was always intrigued by the idea of overseas mission trips to help the underserved. He just never imagined the Army would be the instrument in helping him find purpose at this stage of his life.

"I wanted something that felt like a challenge, physically and mentally, and to give something back," said Dr. Endow, a married father of two sons and two daughters.

During officer basic training at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Dr. Endow found himself one of the oldest participants. At the time, he was 51 and estimated that of some 400 people at basic training only about five were over 50.

"They got a kick out of it," he said of his fellow officers.

The team aspect of training was especially encouraging.

"They put us in stressful situations and taught us to count on each other," he said.

His first mission took him to El Salvador and was entirely dedicated to providing dental care. Subsequent trips took him to Kuwait (for a three-month deployment) and Guatemala as well as a return trip to El Salvador. Excluding that first mission to El Salvador, all of the trips have been medical missions, meaning his role is that of general dentist.

During his time away, he keeps his practice open but operating on a scaled-back basis.

When not overseas, his time commitment to the Army is one weekend a month.

For dentists interested in signing up, he recommends they talk to a local recruiter to set up a time to observe the nearest dental unit in action.

"If they have an interest and do a site visit, they're usually hooked."

On Sept. 17 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Now 56, he is scheduled to end his commitment in 2019 but already has plans to extend.

"The most satisfaction I get isn't just from missions," said Dr. Endow. "Being a part of the Army team gives me a strong sense of purpose. I didn't have any idea of that before I joined. It's such a great thing to be with a group of people who have a strong sense of service.

"That's a lot of responsibility on you and that's something you don't take lightly. Everyone helps everyone – the physicians, physician assistants, pharmacists and nurses. It's a great feeling. You meet your best friends every time you go."