May 2020 Volume LV Number 3

 
 
 
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Resident's Corner

May 2020 Volume LV Number 3

An Unconventional Road to Pediatric Dentistry
by Sarah Khan, D.D.S. M.P.H.
 
The late Steve Jobs said, "You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards." When I first started on my career path, I never thought that I would be finishing up my first year of pediatric dentistry residency almost four years after graduating dental school. I often think about how my life would be different if I had applied to residency straight after dental school. Almost immediately, I reflect on each triumph and setback and can- not help but feel thankful and humbled.
 
When choosing what dental school to attend, my decision was not only a safe one but also a calculated one. After graduating Stony Brook University in 2012, it seemed like a natural transition for me to attend dental school at my alma mater. As a pre-dental student, I was privy to the clinical and didactic curriculum at Stony Brook and eager to start my education. While many people come into dental school with preconceived ideas of specialization after graduating, I was intent on becoming a well-rounded general dentist. A turning point in my career was when I started taking classes during dental school for my Master’s in Public Health. My goal was to understand oral health from a holistic perspective to conceptualize the importance of prevention and the impact of social determinants of health. My Master’s practicum left a lasting impact on my career. I conducted a needs assessment about the current knowledge base of the pediatric hematology/oncology department in regards to the oral health of their patients and found that there was a huge knowledge gap. After this experience, I became passionate about interprofessional col- laboration and the value it adds to patient care. It was through my Master’s classes where I first began to contemplate pediatric dentistry as a specialty.
 
Keen on establishing myself as a general dentist also comfort- able seeing children, I wanted to go to a General Practice Residency (GPR) with a robust pediatric dental rotation. Looking back on my time at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, I knew I was prepared for the next step of working as a new dentist in the real world.
 
The transition between GPR into the workforce as a new dentist was a difficult one. I moved to Philadelphia to be with my husband. Not only did I have to acclimate to a new city, but I started in a practice as a solo practitioner. This was very different than being surrounded by my dental school classmates and co-residents. During my two years of working in private practice, I was fortunate enough to work in a bustling multi-disciplinary practice with amazing sup- port staff. After working a few months seeing patients of all ages, I transitioned into a role where I was only seeing children. Everyone around me saw a change in my attitude and outlook in regards to my job. Every day, I found myself happier and excited to go to work. My mission was to build a strong and trusting foundation between kids and their dentist at an early age to set them up for a lifetime of good oral health.
 
I decided to apply to pediatric dentistry to fill in the missing puz- zle pieces and add more tools to my toolbox. I wanted to be skilled, knowledgeable and proficient in every aspect of pediatric dentistry. On the interview trail, I was delighted to find practicing dentists just like me who had spent time in the workforce and were looking to go back to residency. Everyone’s journey was unique but I found many common threads. Flash forward and I can’t believe I am more than halfway done with my first year of residency at Maimonides Medi- cal Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The patient population in Brooklyn is incredibly diverse, ranging from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Prior to starting residency, I would be terrified of treat- ing an F1 patient coming in for an emergency. Now, I am more con- fident and competent and I am looking forward to seeing how I grow over the next year. I am so happy that I am surrounded by a group  of intelligent and competent co-residents that I can learn, laugh and collaborate with. Every journey begins with a single step and I am ecstatic to be on this path to becoming a pediatric dentist.