Growing up in Bad Axe, Michigan, Julia R. Plevnia – DDS, FACS, FACD – often heard people talking about “getting a good job,” but she wanted a career. She wanted something more meaningful, where she could work hard and make a difference in people’s lives. Dr. Plevnia does that today as a surgeon and a soldier – careers that are not typically thought of as “women’s roles.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have many supportive people in my life, and that makes a tremendous difference,” says Dr. Plevnia. “Women are often told they can’t do things because they’re women. Don’t be deterred by people who aren’t going to be supportive. Keep pushing forward. Sometimes it’s hard to get the support your male colleagues get, so surround yourself with as many supportive people as you can and support them, too. Find a good mentor. Be a good mentor. Celebrate each other and your successes.”
Dr. Plevnia attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, where she earned dual bachelor’s degrees in communications and political science, originally intending to go into law school. Initially, she worked for Dun & Bradstreet in sales, where she quickly discovered she wanted to go down a different path.
“I was working all the time but didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything,” recalls Dr. Plevnia. “That’s when I realized I was in the wrong field. I wanted to help people, and to make a difference in their lives. I wanted to be in the medical field, so I went to dental school on an Army scholarship.”
During the summers, Dr. Plevnia served in active duty training at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., where she was introduced to the oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMS) specialty, working orthognathic and trauma cases.
“The training I received there was amazing,” says Dr. Plevnia. “Seeing them rebuild people’s faces, helping our soldiers – that was the bug that bit me. From that moment on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Dr. Plevnia graduated with her DDS from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, ranked number one both internationally and in the U.S. On graduation day, Dr. Plevnia was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army. She went on to complete a year in advanced education in general dentistry at Fort Meade, Maryland.
After that, Dr. Plevnia served for two years as the officer in charge for a dental clinic at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Following that assignment, Dr. Plevnia completed the officer advanced course in San Antonio, Texas, and then returned to Washington, D.C., to begin her OMS residency at Walter Reed. While there, she treated soldiers who were critically wounded in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as retirees and family members of the Armed Forces.
Following her residency, Dr. Plevnia was awarded the distinguished Silver Scalpel Award and was asked to teach in the OMS residency program at Walter Reed. After teaching there, Dr. Plevnia was sent to Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, where she served as the assistant program director of the oral surgery program and as a mentor for the advanced education general dentistry residency.
After that, Dr. Plevnia served at the Army Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado, where she taught and mentored students in the AEGD program in the oral surgery department. During this time, she was selected by her residents – twice — as Mentor of the Year and received a number of military commendations. After several years serving there, Dr. Plevnia transitioned off of active duty to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves and went into private practice.
While serving in the reserves, the U.S. Medical Detachment Commander personally requested Dr. Plevnia as the Colorado State Dental Officer, a post that she held for about five years, before being promoted to Colorado State Surgeon in 2018 and the Colorado Army National Guard/Colorado Joint State Surgeon in 2020. She is the first female, first Dental Corp officer and first oral maxillofacial surgeon to hold those distinctions. As the Colorado State Surgeon, she also served as the advisor to the governor on COVID-19 response, vaccinations and other medical concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before COVID-19, my role was primarily administrative, overseeing things like behavioral health, medical profiles, readiness for deployment, that sort of thing, but when COVID hit, medical was on the forefront. We were responsible for containment measures, testing centers, moving vaccinations around the state to make sure soldiers received what they needed – it was a big responsibility, and I’m honored to have been a part of it,” notes Dr. Plevnia.
Today, Dr. Plevnia continues to serve as the Colorado Army National Guard/Colorado State Surgeon and holds the rank of Colonel. She recently received the Order of Military Medical Merit for significant contributions to the U.S. Army Medical Education Department.
In addition, she is an owner, partner and practicing oral and maxillofacial surgeon with Dry Creek Oral Surgery, which has an office in Parker, Colorado, and an office in the Denver Tech Center in Englewood, Colorado. The practice has three surgeons and offers a full scope of OMS. At Dry Creek, Dr. Plevnia practices a full scope of oral and maxillofacial procedures, with a clinical interest in orthognathic surgery, dental implants, tooth extractions and pathology with reconstruction.
“I love what I do. I love being able to make a huge impact on someone’s health – to be able to change their face or profile. I love getting to know my patients and being a part of their lives. I love all the things that I learn from my patients – each one can teach you something,” says Dr. Plevnia. “I’m making a difference and it’s never boring.”
Dr. Plevnia also is an adjunct trauma lecturer at the Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine and a preceptor on trauma rotations for Idaho State University. She also is a member of the Trauma Emergency Specialty Surgery (TESS) Facial Trauma Panel, which responds to difficult, emergency facial trauma cases at all the Centura Littleton Adventist hospitals and urgent care centers throughout the state of Colorado.
In addition, Dr. Plevnia is the DORA Anesthesia Office Inspector for Colorado, where she helps ensure that dental professionals who have sedation privileges are up-to-date on their training, certifications and onsite inspections. She serves in a number of leadership roles for a variety of professional organizations and is particularly active with the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the American Board of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery.
She is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Dentists, and is one of the first female oral and maxillofacial surgeons to receive the nationally acclaimed “Trademark Women of Distinction Award.” In addition, she recently received the ACOMS Humanitarian Award from the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.
Dr. Plevnia has had a highly successful career both as a surgeon and a soldier, something she says would not have been possible without the support of her friends, colleagues, staff, and particularly her family.
“My husband and our two boys – Harrison and Preston – are my biggest cheering section,” says Dr. Plevnia. “What I do is important and they’ve always very been supportive and very understanding of that. I could not do any of this without them.”
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