A life dedicated to making others smile
Doug Nielsen has, both figuratively and literally, dedicated his life to making people smile.
A resident of Richmond since the age of two, when his family moved into a home at No. 1 Road and Granville Avenue in the-then township’s west side, the popular and widely-respected longtime local dentist has made it a mission to help others. It’s a calling that can, in part, be attributed to a challenge laid down by his Uncle Erik.
During a family dinner one summer while on vacation from the Yukon, Erik asked the young teen about his future career plans. Responding with a laugh, Nielsen said: “Well, my plans are to go to Grade 9 at Hugh Boyd.”
“The difference between success and failure is focus and drive,” challenged Uncle Erik, who then encouraged his nephew to seek out professionals and interview them about their work and if they liked it.
That fall, when one of his teachers assigned the class a project to do career profiles, he took up his uncle’s challenge by going out and talking with doctors and dentists. He was suitably pleased when Dr. Ross Upton, at the time president of the College Dental of Surgeons of B.C., agreed to an interview.
“My mom drove me to his office, but being used to me having a 10-minute interview with the previous professionals didn’t expect me to be long. She wound up driving around and around the block for an hour and 15 minutes while Dr. Upton shared his passion for dentistry and the wonders that the career holds. By the time I left his office I was convinced that I was going to be a dentist.”
Only a year after graduating from UBC Dental School in 1972, Nielsen opened the Steveston Smiles practice. And throughout his many years in dentistry, Dr. Nielsen has continued to pursue higher learning by participating in many programs to improve patient care and expand the services offered.
Nielsen’s passion for his profession also extended to his becoming past president and director of the Vancouver and District Dental Society. In May, 2008 he was honored to be selected for a Fellowship in the American College of Dentists. Selection to the Fellowship reflects one’s exceptional leadership, achievements, and involvement in the dental profession and in the community. It also recognizes an ability offer new insights and directions for dentistry and oral health. It is indeed an elite group, reflected by the fact only 108 fellowship have been awarded in B.C. while there are more than 3,000 dentists in the province.
“I love learning, and particularly love learning about dentistry,” says Nielsen. “I consider myself to be truly blessed because I love what I do.
“Receiving a Fellowship was a very humbling moment, to know that my peers would nominate me for such a great honour. Dentistry is a challenging, yet wonderful career that provides opportunities for teaching, research, private practice, community health and fellowship with peers. I have made, and continue to make, many lifelong friends through dentistry and I look forward to going to work every day.”
The proud parents of four children—daughter Michele, who now owns the family practice Steveston Smiles, Robin, Nicole and Michelle, Nielsen and his wife Susan were both shaped as individuals by growing up in modest households. He says both families always looked for opportunities to help friends, neighbors and strangers.
“It’s always been about finding ways to extend a helping hand of kindness,” he says.
One way the couple continues to carry out that mission is through The Dental Mission Project Society (www.
TheDentalMissionProject.com) which they established with the help of family, friends and colleagues some years ago.
“We loan out portable dental equipment and supplies to dental teams so they can volunteer throughout the world,” explains Nielsen.
Since its inception, the Nielsens and various other teams have provided more than $2 million worth of free dentistry to those in need—both internationally and in their own back yard. And in the last two years, Doug and Susan have focused their energy locally, mentoring students of the UBC Dental School in mobile dental clinics in rural B.C., East Vancouver and Richmond Hospital (for seniors). In the fall they will be working with the Steveston Buddhist Church on a free dental clinic in Steveston.
“In working with UBC Dentistry over the past several years in our mobile clinics, our team has had a wonderful opportunity to mentor over 200 dental and dental hygiene students,” says Doug. “It’s been my pleasure as an alumnus to give back to the school.”