From our career-retired military dentists who spend the second half of their career teaching at Iowa to our veteran students, from our esteemed alumni who carry on the Iowa legacy throughout their military careers to our veteran patients who wouldn’t have access to dental care without our college, Iowa Dentistry is committed to those who have served in the United States uniformed forces.

From Military Service to Dental Education

Iowa has long had an elite reputation as a premier dental education institution among each branch of the U.S. military. Veteran alumni consistently report that when they started their military dental careers, their dental officers expected the very best from them because of their Iowa pedigree. This reputation also means that military dentists often attend Iowa to receive their specialty education.

After graduating from Howard University, Catherine Hopkins was commissioned in the U.S. Navy and served at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, the Navy wanted her pursue specialty training.

“I was told that the operative dentistry program at Iowa would be a great fit for me, and that was true; it felt like family from the start,” Hopkins said.

In her three years in the operative dentistry advanced education program, Hopkins says it was a great experience.

“The department and college were very military friendly—they made sure that everything the Navy needed and that I needed for my education were provided,” Hopkins explained, “and some of the faculty even gave me the scoop on what I’d experience at my current appointment at 29 Palms.”

Catherine Hopkins

Catherine Hopkins ('22 MS)

Dentist and Program Director, Dental Credentialing at 29 Palms Marine Base in California

Active duty
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
Future Plans: Career military with interest in teaching dentistry after retiring from the Navy

Zachary Graham

Zach Graham

2nd Year Dental Student

4 years of prior military service
Rank: Captain when he left the U.S. Army
Future Plans: Dentistry private practice

Although many in the armed forces pursue specialty dental education at Iowa, others come to Iowa to start their dental education after military service.

Second-year dental student Zach Graham did just that. After completing his four-year ROTC program at Iowa State and four years of active-duty service in military intelligence—ask Graham about Russia’s air defense system if you want the low down on the war in Ukraine—he went back to college to complete prerequisites for dental school, and entered dental school at Iowa in 2021.

Iowa Dentistry is proud to support and educate students like Hopkins and Graham. Their experiences make a profound difference in the life and culture of the college. 

Service for Others

Military dentists pursuing advanced specialty training at Iowa play a vital role in educating our dental students. As an operative resident, Hopkins taught D1, D2, and D3 students.

Because this teaching experience is so rewarding, many of our veteran specialists come back to Iowa to teach when they retire or leave military service. That’s part of the reason that the college has 14 former active-duty faculty members.

For instance, after John Hellstein retired from the Army in 2002, he was promptly recruited as a professor of oral pathology.

“I knew everyone and everyone knew me,” Hellstein said with a grin, “so it was a great fit.”

Having residents and faculty who have served also shapes dental student life. Not only do students see what it’s like to wear the uniform through their personal encounters, but it has also allowed the Tau Sigma military club to become one of the more active dental student groups at Iowa. 

Tau Sigma helps students learn about what a military life and career is like while providing support and outreach to local veterans. Hopkins served as a graduate student advisor for the organization, Graham is serving as president, and Hellstein and Richard Williamson, clinical associate professor of prosthodontics at Iowa, have both served as faculty sponsors of the group.

Over the last couple of years, Tau Sigma has focused on encouraging Iowa dentists to join Everyone for Veterans while also raising funds to the 2011 Veteran Fund intended to support veteran patient care at the college.

John Hellstein

John Hellstein ('91 MS)

Professor in Oral Pathology, Radiology, and Medicine

Retired from the U.S. Army
Retired Rank: Colonel

Become a private practice provider for Everyone For Veterans, a national program to pay for veteran health care, including dentistry.


active veterans patients

active veterans patients


patients served via the 2011 Veterans Fund

Making an Impact for Iowa Veterans

Having a healthy presence of those who have served or are currently serving also shapes how Iowa delivers oral health care for veteran patients.

Approximately 6% of the US adult population have served in the U.S. armed forces, but dental care isn’t covered by Veteran Affairs except for a few months after discharge or if the condition was caused as a direct result of their service. As a result, veterans are an underserved population.

“Many veterans aren’t able to access care at Iowa or elsewhere because of financial barriers, and this is especially true for dentures and other prosthodontic services,” Hellstein said.

Jo Rummelhart established the Dr. Jo Rummelhart Veteran Appreciation Fund to establish a sustainable, long-term resource to provide financial assistance for U.S. veterans to receive dental care at the College of Dentistry.

Support the Dr. Jo Rummelhart Veteran Appreciation Fund to help United States Veterans have access to sustainable, private financial assistance for dental care at the UI College of Dentistry

“I was a Navy dentist for 10 years, and like many veterans, I feel a strong connection to those I have treated and served with,” Rummelhart said. “I know that having financial assistance available will greatly benefit our veterans who have sacrificed so much and suffered many hardships due to their service.”

For their efforts to improve veterans dental care at Iowa, both Hellstein and Rummelhart were recognized as 2022 Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans.

Our veteran dentists, like Hellstein and Rummelhart, have left a deep and abiding legacy at the college. Their efforts shape our culture and our education, and that, in turn, transforms how we provide dental care for our veteran patients. That legacy is bearing fruit today with veteran students like Graham, and active-duty young alumni like Hopkins, who are likewise committed to improving oral health care for veterans at Iowa and around the world.

Originally published in the Spring 2023 Dental Link Alumni Magazine.    

Jo Rummelhart

Jo Anne Rummelhart ('81 DDS)

Retired periodontist in Madison, WI

Active duty 1981-1992 US Navy
Retired Rank: Lieutenant Commander