Hard work is no stranger to Sireesha “Siri” Kodali, DMD, MSOB, MHA, a second-year University of Louisville pediatric dentistry resident. Raised in an agricultural family located in the southern part of India, she endured circumstances that “made me strong from the inside.” As a youth, even going to school was a challenge – an hour bus ride, followed by a 30-minute walk.
With the vision to pursue a dental career not only for herself, but to fulfill the dream of her father, she started her education at Vishnu Dental College, followed by a year as an extern with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Vijayawada, India. The journey eventually brought Siri to Western Kentucky University as a graduate student.
Siri says while in Bowling Green, Kentucky, she grew in her communication skills and gained a better understanding of United States cultures, values and beliefs through her volunteer work on and off campus. She also worked as a middle and high school tutor, and earned tuition through her role as a teaching and research assistant.
In furthering her career pursuit, Siri landed just one of three advanced standing seats to the UofL’s DMD program in Spring 2014, beating out more than 170 international student competitors for the chance to earn a UofL dental degree. She also enrolled in the School of Dentistry’s Masters in Oral Biology program.
It was during her time in these programs that Siri had the opportunity to conduct research with Ann Greenwell, DMD, MSD, program director of postdoctoral pediatric dental residency.
“Prior to my time with Dr. Greenwell, I never thought of doing a residency program – primarily because of financial reasons,” Siri said. “But there is something about kids – I felt I can and want to take care of them; they make me explore myself and I derive happiness from making them smile.”
Upon graduation from dental school, Siri secured a pediatric dental residency spot for international students at UofL. Residents see a large volume of immigrants and refugee patients from countries such as Syria, Burma, Somali, Nepal, Vietnam and Ethiopia, and Siri says she is sensitive to cultural differences.
“As a young, single woman having come to the United States by myself, I understand the difficulties an immigrant can potentially face. I appreciate the strength and courage of these families just to meet their basic needs,” she said.
Siri says it’s eye-opening to hear some of the patient survival stories, and she feels blessed to help children get out of pain and motivate them to take care of their own oral health. She remembers a time when her own poor oral health as a child resulted in four cavities.
“I neither brushed before bed nor flossed, and never visited a dentist until dental school,” she said. “I came from a different country and different generation, where seeking dental care was only for an emergency toothache.”
Siri says now she knows the importance for children to establish a dental home at age one and maintain check-ups every six months. Learning the specialty of pediatric dentistry – from behavioral management techniques to sedation, and even special needs patient care, she hopes to make a difference in the lives of many children throughout her career.