By Christopher Arena, D.M.D.
When I first started my dental education at the New Jersey Dental School, my knowledge of postgraduate programs was extremely limited. I had some familiarity with the various specialty programs, but programs such as General Practice Residencies (GPR) and Advanced Education in General Dentistry Programs (AEGD) were entirely new to me. In general, it seemed that many of my peers had a vague sense of what these types of programs entailed. After hearing bits and pieces of information from various sources, I got the impression that a one-year residency was a “necessary evil,” a sort of rite of passage, to make oneself marketable enough to enter private practice.
To be honest, the idea of additional years of dental education wasn’t appealing in the least. After all, I had just spent four years in college, and now I had four more years of dental education to contend with. I had loans to pay back and a family to support. The general feeling that an additional year of education was yet another obstruction to beginning the rest of my life was pervasive throughout much of my dental education.
In my senior year, however, the uncertainty of the licensure examination process convinced me that, at a minimum, a postgraduate year (PGY-1) was a good “safety net.” I’ve known colleagues who were unable to practice dentistry for up to a year because they didn’t pass their licensure exam. The thought of not being able to perform dentistry after graduation was appalling, so I decided to apply to the GPR at New Jersey. In addition, I could utilize my residency experience for initial licensure in my home state of New York. Thus, the residency seemed a win-win situation for me.
Now, almost two months into my residency, I can say that it was the best decision I ever made concerning my dental education. I have seen vast enhancement in my clinical skills, knowledge, and judgment, especially when treating medically complex patients. My clinical experiences have been varied and unique. I’ve even had the opportunity to perform root canal therapy on a patient under general anesthesia in the operating room. I thoroughly enjoy the autonomy I have when treating patients, yet still have the ability to ask questions of the faculty when needed. Finally, it is gratifying to know that I am providing a valuable service to indigent and underserved populations in my community. With the issue of access to care taking such a prominent focus in our profession, I can take pride in the fact that I’m directly helping to address the problem.
Concerning licensure, I have come to realize that I would rather be judged competent to practice dentistry after completing a residency program as opposed to being subjected to a flawed and unethical licensure exam. The culmination of my years of training at the completion of my residency will go far beyond the current system of ensuring that the public will be well served by the dental educational process. It is reassuring to know that some board examiner scrutinizing the margins of a three-unit provisional restoration fabricated for a manikin will not determine my professional fate. Perhaps PGY-1 is the answer to the licensure debate.
Christopher Arena received his D.M.D. in spring 2004, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Dental School, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences in addition to the GPR. He is Vice President of the ADEA Council of Students.
The “From the Student’s Mouth” column will be a regular feature of the Bulletin of Dental Education, beginning with this issue. We’re seeking dental students who want to express an opinion in this venue that will be read by faculty, deans, administrators, students, and others across dental education. You can be controversial, insightful, and/or funny! If you have a topic you’d like to write about, please contact the dental student coordinators of this column: Rhonda Giltner, Louisiana State University School of Dentistry (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Shawn Kimball, University of Colorado School of Dentistry (Shawn.Kimball@uchsc.edu).