I didn’t always want to be a dentist. The decision was one I struggled over. When I was in college and starting to give serious attention to dentistry as a career, I talked to two dentists that practiced in my hometown.
I asked them both the same question, “What’s dentistry like? Do you enjoy it?” It seemed simple enough to me at the time, but the answers were surprising and confusing.
The first dentist was a regular at the retail store I worked at during the summer months. He scoffed at my question. And as if he had said it a thousand times before, his routine began, “Well . . . it’s realllly hard. And dental school was like four years of boot camp.” He said it slow and drawn out. Like he wanted me to soak in all the misery he had experienced with his life choices.
I kept waiting for the second half of the sentence. The half with the uplifting part of his story. The part he would tell young aspiring dentists so that they wouldn’t regret committing their college years to studying. But that second half never came. He was done. This man’s relationship with his entire career was summed up in 14 words.
The second dentist in town, a man about the same age, also had something to say. “Oh you’re going to love it! There’s not a better profession out there.” So I shadowed him for the day. This man loved what he did, and he made sure everyone around him knew it.
There’s a reason this story sticks out to me after all these years. You see, these two men practiced in the same town. They were about the same age. Graduated from the same dental school. Their patient bases and daily routines were very similar. So what was going on? Why such drastic differences? I couldn’t understand it.
And then I got to dental school. And I saw how easy it is to be drowned by the pounding waves that dental school hurls on top of former straight-A students. The truth of it all is that dental school IS hard. Dentistry IS hard. Make no mistakes about it.
But we all go through it, and then we come out a little different at the end of it. Some of us become model alumni for our schools. But then some of us never want to step foot in the building again. Some of us want to tell everyone how much the profession has done for them. But then some of us just want to work 2 days a week and think about something else the rest of the week.
At the root of this problem is something that everyone has. Its name is “perspective.” And what’s so great about perspective is that you have the power to control it. You mold it, and then it molds the world around you.
In the VA dental clinic that I work at currently, a guy comes in everyday at 4:20 p.m. to collect the trash. And every day as he is dumping all the smaller trashcans into a larger trashcan, he is repeating the phrase, “EVERY day’s a great day!” And he is absolutely incredibly sincere about it. People smile just seeing him walk through the door. They shout the phrase right back at him. “EVERY day’s a great day!”
It’s about perspective and perspective is contagious.
Let’s be honest, I’m new to the game. Two months ago I was getting my Class II line angles critiqued by three different people who all had different things to say about those same line angles. But I tell you the truth when I say dental school was some of the best times of my life. And I can’t imagine what I’d be right now if it weren’t for the people I met and the friends I have and the choices I have made that led me here.
I think about those two dentists often. I’ve talked about them many times before. And I am so thankful that one man’s poor perspective didn’t turn me off from a career that will ultimately change my life and the course that it takes.
So if someone tells you tomorrow they are applying to dental school, what do you say to them? Do you tell them, “No don’t do it, save yourself!” as I have heard a thousand times before? You’re joking . . . but you’re not.
Or will you tell them about all the fun you had in school. And how much better you are at absorbing information on the fly. At how confident you are now in stressful situations that most other people would fall apart in. How about all the special people you met and the lifelong friendships you made? Or the fact that you can get up in front of a crowd now without hearing your teeth clatter from sheer debilitating anxiety.
Or if you were a part of a class similar to mine and every other dental school class that ever existed, what about the classmates that met each other in school and are now married? What about how proud you are to say you witnessed the entire relationship develop and you watched them say their vows as you sat in the fourth row?
Do the rose bushes have thorns? Or do the thorn bushes have roses?
Four years of boot camp? Or something much more. . .
Everything you do and everything you see is framed within the context of perspective. You get to choose what that perspective looks like. But choose wisely, because it could be the difference between a happy career . . . and a miserable one.
Dr. Joe Vaughn is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. He grew up in Alabama and recently graduated from The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry in 2015. He now lives in Seattle, Washington, where he attends the General Practice Residency at the University of Washington. Two cups of coffee, writing and indie music are everyday occurrences for Joe. Go Seahawks and Roll Tide!