Sunday, July 17, 2005


I really need to stop making weekly digests because I fear I'm alienating my few readers with these long posts. I will attempt to keep this short and sweet. I just need to write at least some of it down so that then I can resume my regularly scheduled program of describing my attempt at becoming an oboist.

So I made it through my dental internship unscathed. In fact, it turned out much better than I ever expected. Never did I seriously think that I would emerge from it with my decade old question answered. What do I mean? What I'm trying to say is that I may just be on the way to becoming a "dentoboist". Get it? Dentist AND Oboist.

I don't think that things would have worked out this way several years ago. But hey, the past is the past. I've been telling myself that there really is no predestined path in life, that we must make it as we go. Right now this choice makes way better sense than anything else I've come up with. Yes, Medicine was secretly my dream job. But nowadays I liken it to a beautiful Monet painting which someone has desecrated by cutting into it with a knife and writing over it with a red permanent marker. It's a wonderful vocation that has been tainted by the insurance companies, litigation, etc. Dentistry is more like a pretty watercolor that is framed in lovely wood and hung perfectly centered. It doesn't draw you in immediately but once it does you find beauty and serenity in it.

If you can't already tell I am very critical of pretty much everything. I guess it's my little bit of OCD. Yet last week I was unable to find any glaring defects in the profession that I was investigating. The people I met were all ideal colleagues. They were intelligent yet not snobbish. All were charismatic. I will never forget my impression when we first visited the undergraduate clinic (where the 3rd and 4th year students practice). It felt like something out of a movie. The set up was reminiscent of cubicle land because there are many stations side by side like that. However everywhere I looked I saw harmonious interactions going on between teachers and students, students and students, and students and patients. Everyone (even the patients!) was smiling. It was such a wonderfully cooperative environment that I expected for them to go into a spontaneous rendition of "Kumbayah" at any moment. Of all the things I saw this week that had the biggest impact. The environment was precisely the type of environment I envisioned whenever I thought of an ideal career.

Other things I liked:
  • At Columbia, the first two years of the curriculum are the same as in the medical school. In fact the dental students take their classes along with the medical students. I've long said that I wish I could just learn all the stuff but without the hassles of being a medical doctor. Well, here's a chance to learn it all and then use it to do something else. Some may see this as a negative because it makes the dental school experience even harder, but I see all this learning as a big positive. Wait until I'm studying for all that though ...
  • One of the things I hate about my current job is the feeling that what I do is completely meaningless and that the hours I spend there are a complete waste of my time and existence. Dentistry involves a lot of detailed work with your hands. There is no way I would feel bored under those circumstances. Instead, I would get really absorbed with my task and would pay close attention to getting all the details correct. The interesting thing is that it wasn't until after I picked up the oboe that I realized how much I enjoyed doing things with my hands.
  • Dentistry is a very versatile career. You can decide to go directly into private practice. You can work under someone else. You can be affiliated with a hospital clinic. You can go into research and/or teaching. There is currently a severe shortage of dental faculty. I've long seen teaching as part of my ideal career. It would be very easy to work this in or possibly make it the focus of my career should I so decide. There are many professionals who are doing a little bit of everything and this helps keep things fresh (because I'm sure root canals CAN get boring after a decade or two).
  • Along with the prior one, you have the option of having your own business. I had never considered this seriously because I don't have much on an entrepreneurial spirit in me. But as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate the advantages of being a business owner. Though I can't say I want to do this right now, I will at least have the option to should I so choose.
  • It goes without saying that it was intoxicatingly wonderful to be back in my old neighborhood. Even if I were somewhere else in Manhattan it would still be so much better than where I am now. Suburban CT is just not for me.
  • Gadgets!! I am a (pseudo) programmer after all so I do love technology. There is a lot of research going on regarding the use of technology in dentistry. There are tons of cool gadgets (even lasers!) out there that one can incorporate into their practice. This is cool to me from both a user perspective and potentially from a developer perspective.
  • Less stressful lifestyle. This key question was clarified for me this week. At Columbia the first two years of dental school would actually be slightly MORE stressful than medical school because you're doing the full medical curriculum PLUS dental lab work. However the last two years are a lot less stressful than the clinical years of medical school. And residency and beyond are better for dentists too. I know it will be difficult but no one I met had that desperate look in their eyes due to their career having taken over everything. Everyone seemed to have found a nice balance for themselves. For example, it is relatively easy to become a part-time dentist. There are economic implications but you can easily work a schedule like that. It is also much easier to combine research, practice, and teaching as a dentist. You don't have to also get a PhD. You do come out with a huge debt so I guess there will be pressure to do what brings in the most money. But I think that even if you did dive head first into practice you still would have some free time.
  • Treatment does not consist of prescribing strong drugs which might fix one thing but break another.
  • The "healing touch" -> You can provide instant relief of symptoms.

    I am sure that some of my impressions may have been specific to Columbia so I will need to look into the other schools as well.

    I am trying very hard not to over think this (like what happened with medicine). I felt wonderful the entire week that I was there and immensely enjoyed the hands-on activities (we carved out some fake teeth and worked on a dental simulator). I don't think that I should tempt fate by looking for something even better when I was unable to find any big negatives with this.

    As I've said before I already have my true passion and that hasn't changed. Music and my little oboe are still my big passion. I'm now convinced that however long and painful my journey of self-discovery has been, everything is now working out for the best. I had to find my oboe passion first because it has helped me learn a lot about myself. It also freed me up to think about my career in a more objective fashion. Before I was expecting my career to satisfy my every need. I am now better able to take a look at my needs without emotional baggage getting in the way. Now I have my music passion on the one side and I also have a need to find a career that incorporates science, community service, and teaching while not taking over my life. I think I can definitely enjoy a dental career yet keep it in perspective; I will be able to give it as much space as it needs but can back off after that. This should allow me to still pursue my musical goals (though it might be hard for a couple of years). In the end I am fairly confident that I can become a successful and happy dentoboist.

    oceanskies79 said...

    Hi Hilda, sorry that I have been so busy and caught up with other things to read your blog lately.

    I browsed through this post and I see that you enjoy detailed work with your hand. I wish I could be just as good as you in that. Then again, I shall comfort myself that I probably am good in my own ways.

    Finally, wishing you success as a successful and happy dentoboist.

    Hilda said...

    Hey, no problem at all. I've been busy too and have not been able to keep up with the blogs I read or with more frequent updates on my own blog.

    You know it's funny because the whole time I was worried that I wasn't good enough with my hands to do the work, but everyone reassured me that you get so much practice during the training that you will be good in the end. I did decently well for a first timer but some day I will have to be working on real people so it's kind of scary! But I trust the training process.

    Another funny thing is that I realized last week that my nails have been growing really long lately and they never had been long before. Then I realized why. Ever since I started playing oboe I've become more and more careful of my fingers. They're my most precious limbs now! So now that I no longer knock into things with my hands or try to pry things open with my nails, I have beautiful nails. Too bad I have to cut them for reed making and playing LOL.

    Thanks for the good wishes. I'll be sure the keep everyone updated on my adventures in dentoboe land.

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry to burst your bubble but you are definitly out of touch with the real world of dentistry in the 21st century.

    I have been practicing for 23 years and they have been absolutely miserable.

    Everything you cited was as an uninformed observer without any experience.

    There is much more to the "reality" of dental practice than you can ever imagine.

    Where did you ever get the idea that there is a "severe shortage of dental faculty?" People are tripping over themselves to get jobs in academia.

    Things are so bad that even extremely hard to fill positions, such as in corrections (yes, like in the prison system), are very competitive.

    You better get a grip on reality and talk to some dentists that have been in practice for a decade or more. I am sure you will get a totally different view.

    RJL, DDS