Three new dentists, three different paths

The ADA New Dentist News spoke with three dentists — all 2018 dental school grads — to learn what led them to dentistry and how they chose their career path.

Military

Dr. Harris

Dr. Kristofer Harris took a demotion to become a dentist, but he couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Harris, 37, was recommissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Dental Corps upon graduating from the University of Washington School of Dentistry in June, continuing his military career. Before enrolling in dental school, he served 11 years in the Marines as an officer and Harrier attack jet pilot, eventually climbing the ranks to become a major — one rank above a Navy lieutenant.

His Washington state recommissoning was special, for an old friend from flight school, Marine Major Scott Buerstatte, conducted the ceremony. Immediately after that, Dr. Harris in turn administered the commissioning oath to two classmates: Dr. Ashley Simpson, who will serve as a Navy general dentist, and Dr. Ryan Sonnabend, who will begin a Navy general dentistry residency. Both are now Navy lieutenants like Dr. Harris. Choosing to stay in the armed services, this time as a dentist, was an easy decision for him, said Dr. Harris shortly after he moved across the country with his wife of 14 years and three kids.

“I’m honored for the opportunity to continue serving as a Navy dentist,” he said. “I’m training to provide a service that matters and that everyone needs. Getting to provide that to fellow Marines and sailors will be extremely rewarding.”

Dr. Harris now lives in Bethesda, Maryland, beginning a residency in endodontics at the Navy Postgraduate Dental School at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“I have always been interested in health care,” Dr. Harris said, adding that before he joined the Marines, he was studying pre-medicine in college.

Associate

Dr. Nichols

Dr. Lauren Nichols is an Oklahoman for life.

“After applying to and interviewing at several schools, I chose Oklahoma University because of their strong emphasis on clinical dentistry,” she said. “I was drawn to clinical dentistry from the beginning and have the desire to serve my community.”

She is a recent grad of the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry and grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

“Dentistry is special because you are allowed the autonomy of focusing on patient centered care with an emphasis in communication and quality service,” said Dr. Nichols, 25, now an associate at a general practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Service is important to her, she said.

“I was inspired to pursue dentistry after volunteering at an Oklahoma Mission of Mercy while in high school,” Dr. Nichols said. “After experiencing the sense of community and compassion dentists have for their patients, I was drawn to the field. In dentistry, I am able to marry my commitment to volunteerism with my professional drive to help others achieve oral health.”

Becoming an associate is helping achieve her own goals in dentistry. In the future, she wants to be her own boss. “My professional goals include a commitment to lifetime learning, providing ethical dentistry and becoming a practice owner,” she said.

For now, Dr. Nichols is building her foundation. “Immediately after graduation, I am focused on the transition into practice and establishing new relationships with colleagues and mentors,” she said. “Postgraduation I want to continue to grow my abilities. It is a priority for me to join professional organizations in order to meet colleagues and contribute to building organized dentistry.”

Academics

Dr. Gem

Dr. Hakan Gem, a 26-year-old Washington state native and recent grad of the University of Washington School of Dentistry, plans on staying in Seattle now that he has graduated and is enrolled in the dental school’s Ph.D. program.

Pursuing a Ph.D. wasn’t initially in Dr. Gem’s plans. “I was originally contemplating either joining my mother’s private practice as a general dentist or pursuing oral surgery. But after my mom passed away from cancer at the end of my first year, I had a serious change of heart in terms of my career path. I wanted to join the effort for cancer research, so I applied to the Ph.D. program that our school offers with the intent of focusing my research on oral, head and neck cancers through the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.”

Deciding to delay his entry into clinical dentistry was difficult, Dr. Gem said.

“To be honest, I’m a bit torn between how I’ll split my time as a clinician versus researcher,” he said. “I really love clinical dentistry, working with patients, and operating within a team. At the same time, I’m passionate about research and I’m inspired by the scientific discoveries that ultimately lead to better patient outcomes on a large scale. I hope I’ll find the right balance between those two interests as I move forward.”

To that end, he has created a website called LiveSmyle.org where he makes regular posts about the latest cancer news, important historical figures and general facts about cancer research.

He also established the LiveSmyle Foundation, which raises money to be used to help enrich the lives of cancer patients and their families as they come to Seattle for cancer therapy.

10 comments

  • Wow. So young and eager. Wait till you guys see how it really is out there. Especially if you are in an area with poor demographics. You can take all the classes you want, but you’ll still be doing 1000 amalgams a month to make any income after paying your student loans. All that bone grafting and complete mouth rehab stuff is for the dentists that have patients willing to drop 10-50 grand. They are far and few between.

    • I had to respond to Dr. Augello’s comment as I was taken aback by what I thought sounded like a very negative perspective on dentistry. The profession affords one the opportunity to create the life they desire, while serving patients and self. I’ve been a dentist over 25 years, 10 as a generalist and the last 15+ years as an endodontist and have altered how and where I practice to suit my quest for happiness and contentment…which is why I specialized after 10yrs. Dentistry allows that and many other jobs/professions certainly do not, but you do have to help make it happen. There are so many varieties of practice types to choose from according to what sort of ‘work-life’ fits a dentist’s goals.

      Welcome you 3 new dentists to an amazing profession, (and all those that will graduate in the years to come). I’ve found dentistry a rewarding and enjoyable profession that can be tweaked and fine tuned to make it all you want it to be, if it ever becomes frustrating or mundane. CONGRATULATIONS to you and your families for ALL you’ve accomplished!

    • Such a negative additude undoubtedly breeds negative results! If you are content to plug holes with amalgam there is a problem and it’s nice to blame it on something else like demographics, rather than yourself! There is a consultant in Dallas, Summit practice management look them up they can help if you are willing to listen to half of what they say!

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  • I commend these young dentists. Best of luck in their professional journey. My hope is that they add to the circles of great dental professionals. If so, I hope they end up in Los Angeles as dentists, we definitely need more of that!

  • Congratulations to all three of these dentists on graduation, and impressively having some clarity and vision. An observation of mine after 18 years of private practice is that you make or break your own success. Some advice I would offer to these three new colleagues (and anyone willing to listen) is don’t buy into the haters of dentistry. Dentistry is a fun, challenging profession that can give you everything you want in life. This includes the potential to make as much money as you desire with a work / life balance that is unparalleled in any profession. Lastly, mindset is important for personal and financial success. Good luck!

  • Congratulations to all 3 of the dentists in the profile as well as to all the other 2018 graduates. There are still great opportunities out there as a GP in private practice. My experience is that most patients in suburban private practice just need maintenance with an occasional new restoration or two. There are others though that need and want implants and other treatment that is both rewarding for the provider and patient. The military is a great option that I took advantage of to minimize my student loans and I would encourage others new grads to do the same. 2018 is still a great time to be a dentist and corporate dentistry is not the only long term option. -Karl

  • As a dentist recently retired from private practice, I find this article refreshing! It reminds me of my professional career.
    It wasn’t always clear cut, and I understand Dr. Gem’s quandary. But, short term goals and achievements, over the years, will build to achieve your long term goal of success.
    The Dental field is so exciting with many paths to explore. It does help to have the support of the Military, Research Facility, Family and Associates to launch your career. As time goes on, you will hone your skills and find your favorite activity in the Dental field and pursue it! When retirement comes, you are fulfilled that you had a rewarding career!
    I cant say enough how much I love the Profession of Dentistry. Best of luck to all 3 young dentists.

  • Off topic but wow, wonder how many local dentists know Fred Hutchinson’s connection to our regional professional sports history?

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