Pathways to Dentistry: VA Hospital

When Dr. Sam Willens was in dental school, he imagined himself one day working in his own private practice office.

So these days, about seven years since graduation and six years since he got hired on full-time at a Veterans Affairs hospital dental clinic just outside Chicago, his main advice for other new dentists is “keep an open mind.”

Dr. Sam Willens

Dr. Sam Willens

Without keeping an open mind about his career, “I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to work here. Six years later I have no regrets with my decision to practice dentistry in a VA Medical Center. It is a huge honor to be able to provide oral health care to our nations veterans,” said Dr. Willens, a 2010 graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago.

At the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital Dental Clinic, Dr. Willens sees veterans of all ages and provides comprehensive dental care.

The VA setting is superb for patient care, he said, because there is communication between the dental and medical teams as well as access to an integrated electronic health record.

“This allows us to provide safe and ideal treatment to even the most complicated cases,” he said.

Dr. Willens completed a rotation at the VA hospital during his nal year of dental school. After graduating, he  ursued a general practice rotation at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, a program that was affliated with the VA hospital. A full-time position opened up there before he nished his residency, and a colleague encouraged him to apply.

After considering the satisfaction he felt working there, Dr. Willens said he asked himself, “Why wouldn’t I apply?”

In addition to treating patients, Dr. Willens in his current role supervises general practice residents, a part of his job that appeases his interest in dental education, he said.

But perhaps the best part of the job, he said, is the opportunity to meet so many veterans, learn their stories and thank them for their service. “I feel so much respect for what they’ve done and being able to help improve their oral health is my small way of giving back,” Dr. Willens said.

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