The responsibility of communicating with dental patients can be very humbling. As a volunteer at the New River Valley Free Clinic’s Dental Program, I speak with people who often have no health insurance and insufficient income to pay for dental services. Many prospective patients are anxious and in pain. My job is to gather their personal information, get a description of their problem, and schedule them for an appointment. One aspect of my position I find particularly challenging and enjoyable is the adjustments in communication I must make to effectively interact with people of varying personalities and educational backgrounds.
Whether they are rude and impatient or lighthearted and optimistic, I constantly strive to offer reassurance, understanding, and a solution to their particular dental problem. On the whole, patients sincerely appreciate the care they receive from the Dental Program. The role I play in the relief of patients or retaining their self-confidence is not only humbling, but it also confirms my desire to become a dentist.
Participation in medical research was a pivotal point in my career interests. While attending the University of Virginia, I assisted Dr. Constanze Rayhrer in Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) research in the summer of 1995. The goal of the project was to assess pre-injury treatment with nitric oxide of an oleic acid induced acute lung injury using rabbit heart-lung models (Nitric Oxide Potentiates Acute Lung Injury. Critical Care Medicine, January 1997: 25: A39).
I was able to help Dr. Rayhrer in animal sedation, surgery, blood gas analysis, and data gathering. The hands-on nature of the surgeries coupled with the scientific knowledge required to perform them sparked my curiosity. Working towards a degree in archaeology, I quickly arranged an independent study course the following fall to further explore medical science by researching the pathology of human remains.
I soon learned archaeological pathology often deduces the nature of deformity, disease, and death from dental remains. The erosion of the dental anatomy from a particular diet and the abnormalities in growth due to malnutrition are two examples where science can offer clues in the archaeological record. The inability to interact with living human beings, however, was the missing factor in my studies. A career in dentistry offered what I had been searching for: manual finesse, keen observation skills, and the capacity to interact and affect others through training and science. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1996 and transferred to Virginia Tech as a pre-dental biology major to realize this goal.
From my final semester at the University of Virginia to present, I have enjoyed academic success. My current overall QCA is 3.67, and my major QCA is 4.00. While many factors can influence grades, motivation to pursue a career in health has been my catalyst. Unfortunately, separation and divorce while attending the University of Virginia tried not only my emotions, but it also interfered with my concentration and academic progress. With the help of family, friends and time, the motivation to succeed in college as well as my future career became my focus.
Dr. George Vaughan also heavily influenced my career path. I was able to observe his practice during the 1997 spring semester. As a general dentist, Dr. Vaughan narrated procedures ranging from simple exams to root canals. The pace of his day amazed me as he moved from one patient to the next. The variety of conditions he treated with ease was mind-boggling at times, but as I watched more closely, a subtle constant emerged from my observations. No matter how busy or behind he was, he always made the time to speak with the patients.
He asked about the family or the job or whatever subject seemed to connect him with the person in the chair. His job not only required the years of training and studies necessary to be a dentist, but Dr. Vaughan also personified integrity and a willingness to know his patients. Quite simply, that is the kind of dentist I hope to be.