Three new dentists, three different paths
Whether it’s the working in public health, a small group practice or in academics, dentistry offers a wide range of workplace settings. The ADA New Dentist News spoke with three dentists to learn what led them to dentistry and how they chose their career path.
Dr. Mital Spatz spent four years at Purdue University to earn her doctorate in pharmacy and then another six years as a pharmacist and pharmaceutical rep before making a drastic career change.
She wanted to become a dentist. “I chose to switch careers from pharmacy to dentistry because I wanted to have more direct patient contact and to someday have my own practice to allow me the flexibility of being a dentist and having a family,” she said.
After graduating from the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago (the same institution where she earned her certificate of pediatric dentistry), Dr. Spatz spent nearly two years as the dental director in the Stephenson County Health Department in rural Freeport, Illinois. It was there where she developed a commitment to public health.
“I had an opportunity to be part of a dental clinic in rural Illinois that was losing its funding,” Dr. Spatz said. “I appreciated the opportunity to help the community. The practice was inside a health department and the goal was to continue dental services and care for the people of that community. I thought it was a great way to maintain and grow a practice while serving the community.”
The Indiana native said that she had long-lasting insights from her time in Freeport. “I learned that working in public health was a fulfilling experience in providing dental care to patients that would otherwise not be able to receive care,” she said. “It was rewarding to have many patients grateful and appreciative to have a clinic to receive care.”
She also was exposed to a population that made her decide her future career in private practice: pediatric dentistry. “I especially learned that I enjoyed providing dental care to children and making them feel more comfortable with dental exams and treatments,” the
pediatric dentist said.
Dr. Spatz practices in Illinois as a pediatric dentist at Shriners Hospital for Children and Children’s Dental World as well as at a dental office, Apple Dental Care, focused on public
“My mission is to always treat patients as I would treat my own children,” she said.
In late 2016, Dr. Spatz will open her new practice, Tooth Buds Pediatric Dentistry, in Chicago. “I hope to be part of public health dentistry and provide dental care to patients,” she said. “My goal is to continue to offer this care.”
Small Group Practice
Dr. Rebecca Warnken grew up around dentistry, but almost decided to pursue a different career.
“My grandfather was a dentist, as well as one of my uncles and mentors,” the Denver native said. “My mom is an office manager in a dental practice. Throughout my childhood, I spent time in different dental offices surrounded by great examples of how wonderful this profession is. That being said, I went to college with a plan to go to medical school.”
Then something changed.
“The closer I got to the application process, the more I realized I truly loved all that dentistry had to offer,” she said. “I am able to provide my patients with necessary care that on many occasions changes their life, while also raising my family, running a business and leading a team.
Leadership development is a huge personal interest for me and dentistry allows me to incorporate that interest each and every day.”
After earning an undergraduate degree at Creighton University, she graduated from the Marquette University School of Dentistry in 2013, and then moved to Florida with
After two years at a dental practice in South Bradenton, Dr. Warnken moved to Apollo Beach Dental, a sixoperatory practice where she leads eight team members. She noted that her patients range in age from 1 to 103.
Dr. Warnken was drawn to a small group practice early on. “It allows me the balance I need and want at this aspect in my career,” she said. “I can learn from others; I can consult on cases; and I can have a day of the week to spend with my son. It’s a
Her two years in South Bradenton were at a larger dental support organization.
“I learned invaluable skills that I took into my current position,” she said. “I had support
when I had to let go of a staff member for the first time. I was able to develop leadership skills particular to leading a dental team. These are skills that are often overlooked in most dental school curriculums but are vital to practice success.”
Dr. Warnken has no regrets about choosing her pathway to a small group practice.
“My time working for a DSO taught me invaluable lessons and helped me develop skills in all facets of my practice,” she said. “My move to a smaller practice closer to my home has allowed me to grow both professionally as well as outside of dentistry with involvement in my community and more time with my family.
“I truly enjoy my career and this profession and thus far I would not change it,” she said.
Although he eventually rose to become the oral medicine graduate program director at the University of Washington School of Dentistry after only two years in academics, Dr. David Dean said he “never thought I would be a dentist.”
His father was a dentist. “I think I viewed it as my dad’s thing,” Dr. Dean said. “He never pushed us one way or another. In college I kept taking prerequisites for medical school without any clear picture of what I actually wanted to do.”
Before Dr. Dean’s senior year in college, his father invited him to spend the day with him at his dental office. “Honestly, I had no idea what went on in a day-to-day dental practice,” he said. “I assumed that dentistry was monotonous and mechanical and was surprised to find something dynamic, exciting and deeply relational. I loved it.”
Dr. Dean earned his undergraduate, dental, and masters of science in dentistry degrees at the University of Washington. He never considered teaching until a classmate told him that he had to “try teaching at some point.”
“My love of teaching came about as a happy accident” he said. “I initially returned to academics due to a desire to practice clinical oral medicine. As I spent more time within dentistry, it became increasingly clear that my skills and interests were a bit outside of traditional dental practice.
Taking a position in academics, particularly at UW, gave me the opportunity to pursue my clinical dream. Teaching is a large, important, and very rewarding part of my job, but my ability to be an effective educator is entirely dependent on my ability to be a successful clinician.
While I aspire to be a great teacher and a productive researcher, my driving motivation will always be to provide care for medically and diagnostically complex patients within dentistry.
“Teaching took me by surprise,” Dr. Dean said. “At the end of my oral medicine program, I was fortunate to be offered a position, and through a variety of circumstances, took on a large teaching load right away. I have definitely had some missteps, but each has helped me refine my approach and I am really enjoying it. ”
Dr. Dean’s clinical practice is split between the oral medicine clinics at UW and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and said he has learned a lot about teaching. “If you’re interested in teaching, pay attention to the educators that you respond to,” he said. “Try to emulate the things that resonate with you as you develop your own style. Every time you interact with students, clinically or in the classroom, try to leave them with one take-away point that they can put into practice right away.”
He added more tips for aspiring teachers. “Find a mentor. Senior faculty can provide insight into things that you didn’t even know to think about. You won’t and can’t know everything. Be confident in the knowledge that you have and work to gradually improve in areas where you still have a lot to learn.”