Discussions with Dentists
This month the ADEA GoDental team sat down for a candid conversation with general practitioner, Tonya Parris-Wilkins D.D.S., FAAHD, MAGD. The conversation explored key topics for predental and dental students including selecting a specialty, overcoming self-doubt and creating a support system within the dental community.
ADEA GoDental (GD): When and how did you decide to go into dentistry?
Dr. Tonya Parris-Wilkins: I met a dentist by the name of Dr. Ronald Smalls in Williamsburg, VA, where I completed my undergraduate work. He encouraged me to submit an application for the University of Michigan School of Dentistry (U-M SOD) Profile for Success Program which is geared towards students interested in the dental profession and preparing them to be successful applicants to dental school. I visited U-M SOD for four weeks, absolutely loved the program, and applied for dental school admission the following year.
GD: What inspired you to choose your specialty?
TPW: I completed a two-year General Practice residency to learn more advanced skills in the profession beyond what is taught in the predoctoral program at U.S. dental schools. After investigating several specialties, I decided that I wanted the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. Hence, I decided to pursue general dentistry.
GD: Do you have a story behind your journey to your current field or career status?
TPW: My mother always told me that it was better to be a specialized professional so I could work in my own practice and set my own hours. She was absolutely correct! I was interested in health care and enjoyed working with my hands, so dentistry was a perfect fit!
GD: Did you experience any difficulty or doubts while working toward your goal?
TPW: Of course. I remember wanting to drop out of dental school my second year. It was extremely difficult for me. I was a newlywed and spending incredibly long hours in the laboratory. Going into the program, I thought dentistry was only about setting denture teeth and making record bases. Thankfully, my operative dentistry professor reminded me there was more to dentistry and encouraged me to continue.
This goes to show why it is so important to create a support system by connecting with people who are in the profession and have experienced the hardships that you will undergo along your journey to achieving your goals. They have the ability to ease doubts, share their experiences and open your eyes to everything the profession has to offer.
GD: What do you like the most about your profession?
TPW: I absolutely love interacting with my patients and the ability to see the immediate effects of my work. I also like being involved in my community.
GD: What would you name as the key to success within your specialty?
TPW: Mental fortitude and perseverance. There are far more people who will tell you that something is impossible versus being possible, regardless of the profession. Everyone should recognize there are also going to be setbacks. I learned that unconventional paths to achieving one’s goals may be necessary, but that there is still a way to reach them.
GD: What are next steps for you? What does the future look like career wise?
TPW: I was recently appointed to the Virginia Board of Dentistry by the Governor Terry McAuliffe. My next steps are to represent The Commonwealth and the profession to the best of my ability for the next four next years throughout the length of my appointment.
GD: Any advice you want to share with aspiring dental students who are unsure which direction they want to take their dental careers or when deciding which specialty to choose?
TPW: It is very important to talk to people in different areas of the profession. They can share with you their successes and failures.
GD: Any advice you want to share with aspiring dental students if they are already decided on becoming a dentist?
TPW: Success and financial stability do not happen overnight. I have seen several students who believe that the minute they receive their degree, they will instantly be successful. There are many different rungs on the ladder to success. Obtaining a thriving practice, minimizing debt and sorting out other professional and personal goals takes patience, hard work and perseverance. Stay focused on the end point and run your own race.
GD: Anything else you would like to share with the ADEA GoDental audience?
TPW: When local dental societies sponsor events for students it is very important to attend. You may even find a new mentor.
GD: What ever happened to those record base making skills?
TPW: (chuckles) I will say, that making record bases is a desirable skill to have once you are in practice. It reduces your laboratory bills.