Brenda Driefert, left, and Dr. Julie Hawley glance at the computer screen Tuesday. Hawley recently took over the Dr. Douglas Harman dental practice.

After seven years of working at Douglas Harman DDS, Julie Hawley is moving to the forefront of the practice.

Harman isn’t going anywhere. The employer is becoming the employee and reducing his responsibilities to pursue other interests in life. It was in the works to make the shift in 2020.

“It’s very exciting, but it has been a little stressful because anytime you are in charge, you take on more responsibility. Fortunately, we have such a good foundation. I’ve been with this team for seven years. We’ve had a few changes, but it hasn’t changed significantly with our core players.”

The core players include Harman, Office Manager Brenda Diefert, full-time dental hygienists Leslie Acree, and Shannon Phelps. The core group was in place long before Hawley arrived on the scene in 2013.

The journey to fronting her own practice, Julie Hawley DDS, began before Hawley enrolled at the University of Virginia. Her sister was in nursing school, and Hawley started looking into the health field as a career.

After finishing her schooling at the University of Virginia, Hawley prepared to enroll at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry. That is when she connected with Harman.

“When applying to dental schools, I needed shadowing experience,” Hawley said. “I called dental offices in Roanoke Rapids, Emporia, and around the area. Dr. Harman had an employee out on leave for the summer.”

Hawley worked that summer as a receptionist at the front desk. One summer later, she was getting hands-on experience at Harman’s office as an assistant.

The Valentines’ native enjoyed her two summers working with Harman. The two developed a working-relationship. When she graduated from VCU in May of 2013, Harman had a position available for Hawley at his practice.

Staying close to home and working with patients Hawley had known since she was a child was perfect to begin a career. The trust was already built. The rookie dentist quickly discovered she was still a student.

“There is a huge learning curve in any field you enter after graduation,” she said. “You can’t learn everything in school. There were a lot of things I wasn’t an expert at, but I was able to go to Dr. Harman and have him mentor me. I’ve been able to get a lot of behind the scenes help through the last seven years.”

One issue becoming prevalent in the dental industry is the known correlation between periodontal disease and systemic health. Warning signs of heart disease, several types of cancer, dementia problems in Alzheimer’s patients, and diabetes are discovered at dental practices.

Hawley said dentistry is not exclusively about drill and fill, and cleaning teeth. She’s discovered unexplained oral issues not explained by one’s teeth-brushing habits. The recommendation to go to a physician has led to the discovery of diabetes.

“We know if we can treat gum disease, we are going to have an impact on someone’s systemic health,” Hawley said. “A lot of people don’t know that. We’ve had a lot of people in here that thought they were healthy, but we looked at their oral cavity and discovered issues in their mouth not explained by how they are brushing.”

The correlation between dental health and systemic health is one of the significant changes in how modern dentistry operates. Every Hawley patient is screened for oral cancer.

Hawley’s office benefits from having the latest technology on hand. That has always been a strong suit of Harman’s practice.

Hawley has grown in the last seven years, including the addition of gaining surgical experience. Her growth has led her to take over the 510 Belfield Drive, Emporia dental practice.