Monday, May 20, 2013

Manifest Dentistry

A few hours after Dr. Colleen DeLacy’s last The Daily Grind blog post officially went live, my husband sent me a text message to say, “Oh no! Weren’t you thinking of writing about your experiences as a female dentist in your next piece? Guess you’ll have to find a new topic now.”

I thought about what other subjects I could blog about, but the sad truth is, I came up pretty short. As a younger dentist, I haven’t had the opportunity to amass a whole lot of noteworthy reflections or document any cases that I’m particularly proud of. If a slideshow of work I’ve completed since I left school actually existed, it would contain captions like, “Observe my access preparation - it measures roughly the size of Texas!” or “What has two thumbs and didn’t spot MB2, even with loupes on? This doc!” Nope, that wasn’t going to work.

I had already written about the psychological and emotional impact of the transition to being called “Doctor.” I have recounted my journey to licensure and gainful employment in excruciating and embarrassing detail. I have complained about the patients who hate dentists and whom I gladly treat anyway because I’m such a glutton for punishment selfless, giving professional. Education, diploma, license, job, happy customers. I covered all the basics, didn’t I? Well, what now? Where do I go from here?

I can’t write about what it’s like to balance a career in dentistry with raising a family. For crying out loud, my husband and I are still having trouble keeping potted plants alive in our apartment! (Fingers crossed for Orchid #3, everybody.)

I guess I could write about what it’s like to be married to another dentist, but since we’ve only just celebrated our first wedding anniversary, the idea of divulging intimate details of our relationship seems at once intrusive and patronizing. On one hand, it’s nice to come home to someone who’s so passionate about dentistry that some days I’m convinced he has silane coupling agent oozing from his pores. On the other hand, I feel like I can’t offer any meaningful advice or insight on the topic due to my limited experience in this domain. I’m optimistic and ready to take on the challenge, but I honestly don’t know what it truly takes to keep a bond like ours going strong. Though, some silane coupling agent probably couldn’t hurt.

Resolved: If I ever uncover the secret to keeping the fire alive in a marriage of two dentists, I promise to publish a scintillating, tell-all book about it. It will be called Fifty Shades of Enamel. This may or may not also be the title of my memoir. Remember, you heard it here first.

My Facebook newsfeed has been overflowing with photos of friends who graduated this past week, and it’s made me a tad nostalgic for my own commencement. It seems a little late for me to be sharing the story of my dental school graduation, but like everything else I’ve shared on The Daily Grind, it offers, at the very least, a little comic relief.

I’ll spare you the gushy, sentimental “It was the happiest day of my life!” notes and offer a completely true and hilarious anecdote. On the day of the big ceremony, I was actually still one removable partial denture requirement short of getting my certificate. During the speeches, my phone (which was supposed to be turned off) started buzzing with an email alert from the lab that said “Your lab work is ready for pickup!”

Oh happy day! I waited until it was time for the presentation of the degree candidates to call my RPD patient and arrange for him to come to clinic the next available day. A great benefit of graduating in a class of over 300 people: is that absolutely nobody is paying attention to what you’re doing as you march to the podium. Weeks later, when I looked through the galleries of graduation photos my friends had posted online, I could pick myself out of the crowd as the only one who was 1) wearing a blinking red bicycle reflector on my cap so my family could spot me and 2) feverishly making phone calls as I made my way to the stage. Classy, I know.

So seriously, what’s next? What happens when the cap and gown is returned, when the ID cards have been disabled, and the diploma is finally sitting in its frame? I’m sure that’s a question that’s been on the minds of a lot of new graduates and soon-to-be graduates. You’ve all spent the past few years adhering to strict policies enacted by your respective schools and examining boards, following detailed lists, outlines, and instructions to ensure that you transition into the next phase of your career in one piece. What happens now? What’s the plan? What are the steps?

The ironic and remarkable thing about dentistry is that, as much as we strive for the results of our treatment outcomes to be streamlined, predictable, and easily replicated, the same can’t be said of how we manage our personal and professional lives. A large number of dental school graduates will hope to have their next steps include things like “become an associate” or “marriage” or “buy a home” or “have children” or “buy a practice.” I hope that new graduates realize that there isn’t a right or wrong way to achieve any or all of these things in any particular order.

There’s no extra credit if you manage to achieve all the things you want before the rest of your classmates do. There isn’t some all-powerful institution that exists to give good grades for large paychecks or to reward you for the order in which you accomplish your career goals. If I’ve learned anything since I left school, it’s this: excellence in dentistry is achieved through constant remediation and re-evaluation of your work. The answers are not always obvious, the choices are not always clear. Even your best instincts and intentions will lead you astray on the worst possible occasions. But dentistry will continue to drive you to consider what's beyond the charted territory of your comfort zone, to scan the horizon for more than what you already know. That's what I wish most for you all: the courage and conviction to explore the unknown.

Congratulations, Class of 2013. Here’s to what’s next for all of you.

Diana Nguyen, DDS

1 comment:

arizona dentist said...

I'd like to commend that I've learned something new through your blog and thank you so much for that! Keep inspiring.


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