Sounds like a country music song title, I know. I often get asked why I chose to become an orthodontist, especially by the many high school and college shadow students we have come through the office learning more about orthodontics and if it’s the career choice for them.
Back in the mid 90’s, I thought I wanted to go to medical school. Like today, those years were a time of change and uncertainty in the regulation of medicine, so all of the doctors I shadowed (both medical and dental) told me to “do what my Dad does”. Luckily I listened and set my sights on dental school which I started in 1997 two weeks after getting married. I had spent time in Dad’s office (some of our current team were working there already) and I enjoyed many aspects of the profession although about all I did was clean up and develop radiographs at the time. I had no idea how much there was to learn to become a dentist, let alone an orthodontist.
As I tell shadow students, you don’t really just “decide you’re going to be an orthodontist” because statistically speaking, “orthodontics chooses you” with only a 1% chance of getting into an orthodontic residency program after the roughly 10% chance of getting into dental school! I had spent a lot of time doing research involved with dental biomaterials in dental school which really helped my appeal to programs and I was accepted by the University of Missouri in Kansas City.
Graduating from my 26 month residency in 2003 I thought I was all set to do orthodontics because I had completed over 100 Patients with 15 different instructors during my residency. However, as I quickly learned, private practice was a whole different situation! Going from 10 Patients a day to over 80 can be a big wake up call and luckily I had my Dad to teach me so much as he had 30 years in practice at the time.
Orthodontics is an awesome profession, we literally change lives by changing smiles every day and I couldn’t envision that impact when I was entering dental school years ago. After a few years in practice the “it’s about more than the teeth” became very evident to me, especially after meeting Patients like Jerene. Other benefits like being my own employer and being free (mostly) of governmental regulation that occurs in medicine makes me look back on my decision as a good one. However, It was a long difficult path (I was still in school at my 10 year high school reunion!) and the quote “the rewards will be dependent upon the sacrifices required to get there” holds very true.
My advice for young people considering dentistry is to set your goal, envision where you want to be as a 30 year old, and then make every decision based on this question: “is my choice taking me closer to or farther from my dream?”