“Why do you want to be a dentist?”
This is arguably the most frequently asked question during a dental school interview. Lately I have been reassessing my feelings towards dentistry, now that I’ve had some time to become more involved in the didactic and clinical aspects of it and not just the idea of dentistry, or at least notions that I had based on third person experience. Fortunately, those ideas and notions have been reinforced, and ironically however, by the experience of others.
In dental school I have met a wide array of prospective dentists, with different dreams and ideals, who have helped me forge my dreams and ideals. There are those individuals who see dentistry as a lottery ticket. They’re desperately trying to get by because they know that the payout is big in the end. They work harder than most at times, not only to get by with their grades, but also to justify their pursuit with minor fruitfulness since they are following this career solely from a reward perspective. If I were striving for a dental degree because of the monetary compensation but lacked the passion for it to the point that learning about it and practicing it was like pulling teeth (pun totally intended), I would quit. There are easier ways of making money than shoving metal into people’s mouths and dropping $400k on a piece of paper I didn’t enjoy getting (talk about an expensive lottery ticket).
There are other people who try so hard to get straight A’s and do perfect preclinical work that they get lost in the attempt and in their struggle to learn, they forget to enjoy the uniqueness of their position in the grand scheme. The textbooks are their bible and the preclin is their chapel as they martyrize themselves for the sake of making the shortlist of glory and praise. I often fear that I may become that way, considering my attention to detail and anal retentiveness in regards to aesthetics, or lack thereof. However, when standing from a distance, the most minute details become much more than a flowchart, and they paint the picture of a person, clinically relevant and emotionally individualistic. At the end of the day, when a patient receives treatment, it won’t matter how many branches we memorized of the carotid artery, but how well we can extrapolate information, not trying to shove patients into prefabricated models, but adjusting and remodeling our models to fit the needs of our patients. The diagrams in the books and models on our benches are one dimensional, cold, and emotionless, and if our learning stops there, we will lack the humanness behind dentistry.
Why then do I want to be a dentist if not for the money or the knowledge and skill? Well, the answer is complicated, because it is about the money, the knowledge and skill, not for their own sake but for the opportunity they will grant me as a professional to make an impact in the lives of others. I legitimately want to help people, and always have. I could have been a mechanic and been happy if that meant I could have generated the greatest amount of happiness possible in a utilitarian sense of the word. I could have been happy shining shoes for that matter. Unfortunately, a sad truth about utility is that it tends to end when accounts reach zero (not that money means happiness, but rather money can yield access to utility). Dentistry provides me with a livelihood that I’m passionate about for it’s own sake, as well as monetary compensation that can be used to increase it’s utility manyfold. Not only is the service I’m providing beneficial for people as individuals, since their needs are being met not with cold one-dimensional molds but rather personalized care, but dentistry gives me an opportunity that perhaps a mechanic or shoeshiner would not have, and that is self sufficiency with an option for generosity. I can have enough for me and my own, as well as enough for many more.
Am I cheating my family by denying them luxuries? No. If I grant luxuries to some I’m denying bare necessities to others. Our lives are woven in the tapestry of humanity, and only by putting the needs of others above our own personal desires do we really appreciate the beauty of the human connection. That is why I want to be a dentist, so that I can be the best human I can possibly be, increasing the availability of universal utility, both with personal connections and with monetary aid, as well as self-fulfillment through work I’m passionate about.