I am a planner. I have had a box with magazine clippings of ideas
for my wedding since I was 13 years old. I joke that I am a travel agent on the
side because every trip that my husband and I take is planned down to the
I knew I wanted to be a dentist from a young age. I began
shadowing my family’s dentist in high school. I was also vice president of my
University’s predental club, admitted into the early admissions program at my
dental school, graduated from dental school, completed a general practice
residency and was eager and anxious to embark on the career that I had planned
for myself treating patients in a private practice setting. Sometimes our most
thoroughly thought-out plans don’t come to fruition. I never thought I would
find my true passion in educating future dentists, but I am so thankful to have
found my niche.
Dental schools train students to be competent, compassionate
general dentists, which is exactly as it should be. However, there is a
shortage of education and encouragement regarding alternative dental careers.
During my time practicing at a community clinic, I felt wholly unfulfilled with
this career that I had worked so hard preparing for. I felt like a complete and
total failure. Then, I began teaching one day a week at the dental school I had
graduated from 18 months prior.
When I first transitioned into spending more time teaching
than treating patients, something in the back of my mind kept nagging at me,
telling me I was abnormal and inadequate for making this unanticipated career
change. After all, in my dental school class of 98 students, I could be fairly
certain that I was the only graduate who was exploring the possibility of a
career as a dental educator. However, as I have found out, life has a way of
giving us exactly what we need even if we cannot see it at the time.
I am lucky to say that each day, I am excited and enthusiastic
to come to my office in the preclinical laboratory and sit down at my desk at
the head of a bench of 10 first- or second-year dental students. What I sometimes
miss about communicating treatment options and plans with patients is replaced
by the fulfillment I feel when explaining the rationale and technical steps for
a procedure that my students are learning by completing the procedure on
manikins. My passion for interacting with and helping people is realized each
day as I give constructive feedback to students and watch the sudden bolt of
comprehension and clarity flash across their faces.
The delight that I get from interacting with dental students
each day lit a fire in me and inspired me to learn more about educational
theory so I can truly excel in my now proudly chosen career as a dental
educator. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in dental education because,
while I am well-trained in the art and science of dentistry, my four years
spent as a dental student of course did not provide any specific training on
how to instruct others. As a respected member of our dental school’s faculty, I
feel a responsibility and desire to better myself by learning about effective
curriculum design, best practices in assessment techniques and how to give
constructive feedback so I can be confident that I am making a positive impact
on the lives of the future dentists that I am helping to train.
As you are looking forward to the road ahead, keep this one
piece of advice in mind: always follow your heart, whether or not it’s what
your peers are doing. If I had not listened to what my heart was telling, I
would not have found my true calling—academic dentistry.