MATCH day was Monday and I’m so excited to welcome a new class of excellent residents to UW! They’re the last class I’ll get to be co-residents with, so they hold a special place in my heart (though who are we kidding, I love all my co-ressies so much and they all have special places). Between the residency interview process and the Duke Alumni interviews I’ve been conducting over the past few weeks, I’m very thankful that I’m not on that end of either application cycle. So excited to meet our new co-ressies in June!
When I ranked UW and Seattle first during the Match process, I was really excited. This was the only program where you could dual train in pediatric dentistry and public health and get paid to do it. I was even more excited when two weeks later I found out that I’d matched to one of the two spots in the country available. Awesome – I would earn not only my Certificate in Pediatric Dentistry (which alone qualifies you to be a pediatric dentist), but also my Master’s of Science in Dentistry and my Master’s in Public Health. It was the ideal triple threat combination that lets you go wherever you want. Bonus: I loved that Bri was the other person who matched to the position; we got along great and I knew we’d make an awesome team. But then, fast forward a year and some initially trying months of residency later, and my program told me that the grant that made all this possible no longer existed. Done. Gone. Over. No chance of finding additional funding. Sayonara. Goodbye.
I was, needless to say, a tad upset. I had moved not only myself, but my husband, 2,853 miles across a continent for this. I ranked other really good programs lower to do this. I gave up just going straight into a lucrative, safe dental practice to do this. I had already been accepted at UW’s School of Public Health – a top ranked institution. Not cool. Seriously, not cool. My program gave me two options: 1) just drop the MPH and complete the traditional pediatric dental residency and graduate in two years with the Certificate and Master’s of Science in Dentistry or 2) continue with the additional Master’s of Public Health track, knowing that I would not earn a salary for my third year and I would be responsible for the additional tuition. Option #1 was out – I’d already going through too much to get here. Option #2 was really out, because seriously y’all, I’m in the 22nd grade, and all those years of schooling don’t come cheap. Until we win the lottery I’d rather not add to the debt load already bearing down on us. I was crushed.
But this story has a good ending (though for many sleepless nights there didn’t seem like there’d be one): through some hard work and a lot of good luck I was able to fall into the right place at the right time with the right people. I’ve been awarded a T90 postdoctoral trainee grant from the NIH to continue my work in pediatric dentistry and start my MPH classes next week. It comes with the stipulation that I spend a majority of my time in research, an area I’ve always loved, but have recently fully embraced as where I’m supposed to be. This puts me on the path to Academia, a world I know well from the student side and am learning more about each day from the teaching side. I’ve always had lingering doubts about running a private practice as a solo practitioner, and this solidifies that that probably was never going to be the right choice for me. The one downside of all this is that I’ll have less time to spend with my co-residents, whom I love and whose friendships I cherish very much. They’ve been very supportive in the transition and I’m thankful that we’ll still share a few clinics and more importantly, many happy hours together.
Thanks to all of you who lived out this saga in real time through phone calls and emails; your support sustained me. Thanks for never giving up on me and more importantly, for never letting me give up on myself. Thanks for reminding me that life has a funny way of always placing you precisely where you need to be.
This isn’t the direction I set out on, but I’m so freaking excited to see where it goes.
I’ve been some cool places to do dentistry, and occasionally it wasn’t always in the most ideal conditions. Sometimes I use the term guerrilla dentistry to describe the incidences when you’ve got to work with what you’ve got to get the job done. You might not have enough gauze, electricity, clean water or light, but with a clear and smart head you can still do a lot of good.
I’ve been in orphanages with the US Army in Moldova:
To all over rural North Carolina with the Mission of Mercy (MoM) clinics:
To most exotically, Kenya:
Our clinic here is perfectly equipped to handle most anything that walks through its doors and is one of the most well staffed, well supplied and modern places I’ve ever had the dream of working. Today though I got to break out some of my rotation skills in the resident room:
One of our attendings bit his tongue badly enough this morning to require sutures. Poor guy! I numbed him up and stitched him back up in one of our nice operatories upstairs, but he was so numb afterwards we tried a reversal agent to get it to wear off faster. I was between patients so we ran down to the resident room to do it just as Bri walked in with a “Do I even want to know?”. She shot this picture for me.
I’m itching to go back out into the bush (definition: wherever there is some pediatric dental care needed) and help out again soon.
We had our first round of interviewees for new residency positions this weekend. Seeing their bright, shiny, nervous faces made me so happy and thankful to be on this side of the process!
To be a dentist you have to go to dental school, pass several boards and get licensed in a state. This qualifies you to be a general dentist and practice “within your scope” or in other words, do whatever you feel you have the skill and desire to do. To be a specialist in dentistry you must complete a residency program which can last between 2 and 6 years AFTER dental school (which is 4 years of school AFTER college – we define “professional student”). Currently there are nine recognized specialties in dentistry:
- Dental Public Health: These individuals focus on controlling dental disease on a community wide scale
- Endodontics: Root Canals
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Head and neck cancer and other weird things
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: The radiologists of the dental world
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Focus on wisdom teeth removal and putting your face back together
- Orthodontics: Concentrate on braces and wearing golf shirts
- Pediatrics: Pediatricians of the dental world
- Periodontics: The deep cleaners and gum gardeners
- Prosthodontics: Implants, crowns, bridges and dentures
We closely mirror our medical colleagues who are required to do a residency after medical school in how we are accepted into our specialty programs (if we choose to pursue them). In the summer (sometimes in your senior year of dental school, sometimes after you’ve been out into the work force for a while and want to specialize later) you send out your application to a bunch of programs. In the fall you interview at programs that have invited you.
Some specialities (prosth, perio, endo) offer you an acceptance or rejection within days of the interview. Others, at a predetermined day in the winter, rank everyone they’ve interviewed and you in turn rank them in order of where you would like to go. All these rankings go into a magical computer program and a week or two later the computer spits out that you either 1) “Matched” which means you made it into a program and it tells you the ONE program you’ve been accepted to or 2) “Did not Match” which means you didn’t get in and need to apply again for the next cycle. Very much like sorority recruitment.
The interviews in the fall are stressful – you’re constantly on the road, in airports, staying in overpriced hotels, juggling whatever senior year responsibilities you need to graduate and study for boards. It’s also fun because you get to see new places and meet new people (ostensibly the colleagues you’ll have for the rest of your life and who you’ll be running into at conferences for years to come).
Pediatric dentistry has become more competitive in recent years. Last year, the year I applied, 604 people applied to “match” for 343 spots. The cost of applying, flying around the country and attending interviews is enormous, but so is not getting in and spending another year applying if you don’t match. The stakes are high. So I get why these well qualified professionals were a little nervous this past weekend – hell, I was when I was in their shoes last year. That’s why I’m so thankful I’m on this side of it.
To help the applicants get a feel of our program beyond the number of operating room cases we do, number of patients we see, types of degrees we offer, rotation schedule, etc, my fellow residents put together a powerpoint on each current resident. Your fellow residents can make or break a program regardless of the other amenities it offers. I’m so fortunate to now only have found brilliant future colleagues here in Seattle, but folks that’ll be lifelong friends. They are the people who celebrate my bright days and pull me up during the tougher ones. My new study partners and lab mates. I love each and every one of them. If I could tell anyone interviewing what to look for in a program I would tell them to look at the residents and how they get along. It is an excellent predictor of future happiness in a program.
My slide from the powerpoint.
We gave two truths and a lie to have the applicants get to know us as people better in a more relaxed format – I think I learned almost as much about the current residents as the interviewees did! You can see my lie is that I speak Spanish.. I’ll leave all the espanol to mi hermanita (had to look that up).
Good luck to all the applicants out there! Smile, relax, be yourself. You’ll do fine 🙂