Whether it’s the owner of a private practice, an associate or a dentist serving in the U.S. military, 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.
U.S. Air Force Maj. David Schindler’s passion for dentistry began at a young age with each visit to his dentist whose positive attitude and sense of humor, he said, were contagious. That passion only grew with the influence of his stepfather, Lee Salisbury, a general dentist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, growing up, Maj. Schindler was also a fan of military history, especially from authors like Stephen Ambrose who wrote “Band of Brothers.”
“I wanted to be part of that tradition and continue the family legacy of service,” said Maj. Schindler, whose grandfathers both served.
Maj. Schindler joined the Air Force in 2005 before beginning dental school, accepting a four-year scholarship. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry and graduated May 2009.
After graduation, he entered active duty service and began officer training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, followed by a one-year general dentistry residency in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Today, he practices at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. His mission: To ensure dental readiness by providing high quality care for their active duty population so they can execute their mission at home and be ready to deploy if needed without any dental emergencies interfering.
“One refreshing thing I enjoy about practicing in the Air Force is there is no ‘typical’ day,” he said. Patient care is about 85 percent of a workday, the rest is administrative duties around the dental clinic or the wider medical facility.
In addition, the educational opportunities to expand your skill sets are exceptional in the Air Force, he said.
Other reasons to join are for the great benefits, travel opportunities and the patients who do some extraordinary things for the country each day.
Although service requires some sacrifice on the part of families, Maj. Schindler said, a good option for those going into private practice while continuing to serve on a limited basis is joining the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.
“Coming out of school, I didn’t want to deal with the headaches that come with managing the business aspect of a practice — insurance issues, marketing, hiring,” Maj. Schindler said. “I wanted to focus on patient care, help in additional duties; and at the end of the day, focus on my family and not worry about potential issues back at the office. I definitely made the right choice.”
Dr. Irene Marron-Tarrazzi is a periodontist in Miami, Florida.
“I decided to choose dentistry as a career because it would provide me with independence and flexibility,” she said. “My mother was a true inspiration and I grew up spending time in her dental office. Seeing her as a successful dentist and raising a family helped me understand that as women we can achieve work-life balance. I also enjoy the sense of achievement and pride in the handiwork that comes from reestablishing the health and well-being of a patient.”
After Dr. Marron-Tarrazzi graduated from dental school in Venezuela, she moved to the U.S. to pursue a specialty degree in periodontics. She graduated in 2000 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In 2003, she obtained her D.M.D from Nova Southeastern University.
Immediately after graduation she worked as an associate in a small group practice. Her initial plan was to buy in as a partner. After some years she had the yearning to open her own practice. She started her solo practice in Brickell, an up-and-coming neighborhood in Miami, Florida, where she has lived for the past eight years. Her periodontal office consists of herself, one hygienist and three dental team members.
“Being an associate provided me with ample experience in the clinical aspect, time for teaching and becoming involved with organized dentistry” she said. “But I think, until you become an owner, you don’t really know the business aspect of it. For example, we get many lectures on practice management in school and during seminars. However, it isn’t until you have to implement that knowledge on your own that you fully understand it.”
Dr. Marron-Tarrazzi said she tries to keep up-to-date by attending seminars, reading the ADA Center for Professional Success, and periodically meets with a group of dentist friends to share practice management tips.
“New dentists’ pursuing private practice ownership should be a little visionary and creative. Dentistry is a hands-on profession with daily challenges that require the combination of critical thinking, compassion and talent,” she said. “There are concerns of debt, and dentistry is changing. However, I think that private practice is a viable model for our generation, especially when you want to offer a unique practice philosophy.”
Associate to owner with DSO support
Unlike her older siblings who both knew what they wanted to be before they were 6 years old, Dr. Andrea Janik didn’t make up her mind until she was 17.
“I had a really great orthodontist, who seemed like he was really happy being a dentist,” she said of making her career choice.
When she told her father, he gave her his blessing with one condition, that she explore other possibilities in college.
“He said, ‘If you’ve done that and still want to be a dentist, you can,’” recalled Dr. Janik, a general practitioner in San Antonio.
She graduated with a psychology degree and enrolled in 2004 in Baylor College of Dentistry. After graduation, Dr. Janik wanted to focus on patient care — not necessarily on running a business.
“My expertise is as a clinician. That’s what I wanted I’ve always dreamed of being,” she said.
Dr. Janik worked as an associate dentist in Dallas, but after five years, she found an associateship at a practice supported by a dental service organization in San Antonio. DSOs provide support to affiliated dental practices with nonclinical functions, including accounting, human resources, legal and marketing.
“Eighteen months later, I realized ownership was right for me,” she said.
Today, Dr. Janik owns a practice, employing one associate dentist and 1.5 hygienists. She receives services from four specialists and contracts with a DSO for business support services.
“I’ve built around me a tremendous staff,” she said. “We’re doing phenomenal patient care. For things I don’t know anything about, I have people who have degrees in those specialties.”
However, Dr. Janik said she realizes DSOs may carry a bad connotation among her colleagues.
“I’ve had judgments passed on to me that I’ve had to overcome, usually from people who don’t understand what I do,” she said. “Basically, anything to do with patient care is all up to me.”
Dr. Janik said with the cost of student loans, opening a practice from scratch is daunting for a recent graduate.
“That doesn’t include the cost of buying a home or car,” she said. “Just from a personal preservation standpoint, coming in to an office with (DSO) support may not be a bad idea because you’re able to just focus on dentistry and patient care.”