Why so soon? – New Dentist Blog

“Did you always know that you wanted to teach?”

This is a question that I’m asked very frequently, and my answer is probably like many of my colleagues: “Absolutely, not!”

Dr. Hill

My goal when I entered dental school was to practice general dentistry in Memphis, Tennessee after graduation. My career would take me on a completely new path.

I was introduced into pediatric dentistry during my third year in dental school. A mentor also appeared in my pediatric dentistry faculty member. After a while, I made the right decision to pursue pediatric dentistry. My love for teaching grew as I completed my pediatric dentistry residency program.

Residents can teach in the Pediatric Dentistry Student Clinic during their second year of the University of Illinois Chicago’s pediatric dentistry residency program. This allows you to find your passion for academics through clinical teaching.

My entire career was changed by this experience in my case. Also, I remember my dental school classmates always talking about how they wanted to see more diverse faculty. To see the changes you want, you have to be willing to lead and take the first steps towards creating them.

I had the opportunity to complete my Master of Public Health (MPH), which was in administration and health policy. While pursuing my MPH degree, I gained a wealth of knowledge that changed my perspective on how I could help reduce oral health disparities as well as increase access to care to those who are most in need.

My initial motivation to return to Memphis was driven by my desire to serve children in the areas I grew-up in. It became clear to me quickly that I was unable to impact as many children in private practice as I could as an academician. While there are many specialties in dentistry that dental students can choose to study, most dental school graduate will go into the workforce as generalists. A lot of general dentists feel uncomfortable seeing pediatric patients, partly because they have received very little training in dentistry school.

So how can we make students feel more comfortable? We need to give them the didactic knowledge and practical experience that will enable them to be more comfortable with children. This will increase their chances of becoming a general dentist and thereby allowing more children to have access to dental care. This was one reason I decided to pursue full-time academia.

As you can see, I was thrilled to have the chance to pursue a career as an academic. But, there were potential hurdles like my student loan debt and limited time in academia. I also had to consider my desire to do full-time clinical work.

As we all know, student debt can really drive one’s career decisions, especially directly out of dental school or residency. Like many others, my passion for teaching was not balanced by my need to repay over $300,000. At first, I thought I would have to compromise. What if my teaching time was split between private practice and part-time teaching? Although this wouldn’t be the best way to pursue a full-time academic career, it would be a good first step towards that goal.

You can guess what happened next?

Title VII HRSA Faculty loan repayment grant was granted to my institution. This would have helped me pay off my student loans during my first four years as a full-time academic. My institution also allows faculty members to practice one day per week, which can provide additional income to offset the difference in compensation between clinical and academic practice. There are many options available to help you manage student debt and generate additional income if you’re considering a career within academia.

Apart from the potential financial barriers of a career within academia full-time, I also had to deal with the idea that I might be unable to teach immediately after residency. Would I have enough experience? Would I be able handle difficult cases Is it difficult to transition from co-resident into professor? My advice to anyone who is nervous about being prepared is, don’t be! You are a valuable asset not only to residents and students, but also to your colleagues, your institution and the profession.

To take the profession to the next level, we need young, innovative, and energetic dentists. Mentorship has been a great asset during the first few decades of my faculty appointment. My institution has a number of mid- and late-career faculty members. I also have connections with other institutions in the country. My experience has taught me that older colleagues are more open to sharing their failures and successes as well as their journeys. It’s clear that they really want to invest into the future of the profession, and they are willing to guide you along your journey.

As with any profession, academia can be filled with highs as well as lows. There are times when I am reminded of how much there is to learn. It is also difficult to manage multiple responsibilities like clinical oversight, didactic instruction, research, or other extracurricular activities. It is not an easy task, but if you are committed to learning continuously and receive the support of your colleagues at both the institutional and departmental levels, you will be well prepared for success.

While I support the recruitment and retention of more diverse faculty members in dental schools across the country, I also recognize the need for individuals who are willing to pursue academic careers. Four years of full-time teaching has been one of my most rewarding experiences. I’m able to teach, work in private practice, and tackle my student debt with no problem. I recommend that early career dentists consider a career in academia, part-time, or full-time. The world needs you.

Brittaney earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. She completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois Chicago where she received her certificate in pediatric dentistry, an MS and MPH in healthcare policy and administration. She is currently a full time clinical assistant professor at University of Illinois Chicago. She is a Diplomate of American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.

Why so soon? – New Dentist Blog

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