Let me start by giving a little background on my dental school experience.
My father was diagnosed with stage IV renal cell carcinoma two months into me starting dental school at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
He was initially given four months to live, but fortunately he lived about two-and-one-half years more before he passed away three days after I took part II of the National Board Dental Examination.
Because of the stress of his illness and eventual passing, I ended up only being 50% of the way through my graduation requirements on the day of graduation.
I was supposed to graduate May 17, 2009, but I did not “clear” from Tufts until June 10, 2010.
To add insult to injury, I then didn’t pass the Western Regional Examining Board exam.
I couldn’t practice dentistry. I couldn’t do the only thing I had trained to do.
Through one of my mentors, Jeannette Holloway, D.D.S., I found out about a General Practice Residency at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, to which I applied, was accepted, and started in June of 2011.
I took the Southern Regional Testing Agency exam during my residency, finally passed, and got my dental license in 2012. It was three years after I was supposed to graduate and be licensed.
It sounds so trite to say that I would tell my dental school self, “You will be OK,” so I won’t. And, honestly, there are so many things that I would tell myself that I scarcely know where to begin.
I would tell myself: It will be worth it.
When you have patients tell you that you are the best dentist they’ve ever had, it will be worth it.
When you have assistants tell you, “I’ve never had a dentist tell me ‘Thank you’ before,” it will be worth it.
When you have a coworker tell you that an assistant cried when you left because she was going to miss you so much, it will be worth it.
When you organize a Give Kids A Smile event at the Federally Qualified Health Center where you work and have enough connections that you get the story on the local news, it will be worth it.
When you put together a mentoring program with the Indiana Dental Association, it will be worth it.
When you start mentoring young Black women in their paths to a career in dentistry and see them get accepted and graduate from dental school, it will be worth it.
All you see now, Dear Young Dental Student Liz, is sadness and frustration and anxiety, but you will use these experiences to fuel you to be, not just a better dentist, but a better family member, friend, community member and human being. It will be worth it.
Elizabeth Simpson, D.M.D., is a general dentist from Indianapolis, Indiana. She attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine for her dental education. After graduation, she did a one-year General Practice Residency at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. She is now a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. She is the incoming vice chair of the ADA’s Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, and a medical reviewer for the website Everyday Health as well as a guest blogger with the ADA New Dentist Now Blog.