Time, our most valuable commodity — along with our good health, of course.
It’s hard to believe how many years have passed since my last first day of school: the day I started my fourth year of dental school.
My D3 and D4 years seemed like they would never end, and I distinctly remember doing my clinic orientation as a rising third-year student, watching the graduating seniors talk and laugh amongst themselves.
The only thought in my mind in that moment was, “That will never be me. How can I even make it through?”
Well, I did, with a lot of help from my two best friends in school. Both of them have gone on to be incredibly successful in their personal and professional lives. Diana Nguyen, D.D.S., is division chair of clinical general dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Tamara Shamlian, D.D.S., is a private practice orthodontist in Fresno, California.
The conversations the three of us had about life after school still resonate with me today.
Despite having the support of our families and mentors that helped to guide us, we all had questions about our futures and where we would ultimately end up.
Looking back on that time in my life now, I think of what lessons I would have liked to learn sooner – and what I might have done differently.
The first thing I tell all students and new dentists is to try to take as many opportunities that come their way, and really get out of their comfort zones. What do I mean by this? If you think know where you’d like to — or have to — settle down eventually and build your life, apply for your post-graduate training in an area that you might have always wanted to experience and explore. This might be your only chance to do it – and you never know what connections you might make.
New connections might also mean the chance at finding mentors outside of dentistry, and this is yet another piece of advice I wish I had taken myself, all those years ago. A mentor isn’t necessarily someone exactly like you. Rather, a mentor could be someone who lives their life in a way that you admire, or has goals and knows how to work towards them in a manner that you wish to learn. Although I am lucky to have an amazing set of mentors who are also leaders in dentistry and their communities – I’m looking at you, Nima Aflatooni, D.D.S.; “Duke” Ho, D.D.S.; Chris Liang, D.D.S.; David Manzanares, D.D.S.; and Mike Saba, D.M.D. Some of the greatest and most insightful lessons I’ve learned have been from individuals on other career paths at different stages in their lives.
The last and perhaps the most important thing I would have told myself after graduation was to always remain teachable, and never to forget that there is more to learn. Learning isn’t just in the form of continuing education, but it comes from experiences and adventures, too.
Get out there and live. Life is full of peaks and valleys and can sometimes be a difficult ride, but as long as you stay true to yourself and your goals and dreams, you are well equipped to make the best of it.
Amrita R. Patel, D.D.S, grew up in Chappaqua, New York, and graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry in 2011 before completing a general practice residency at the Nassau University Medical Center. Dr. Patel is a general dentist in private practice with her father, Rohit Z. Patel, D.D.S., in Westchester County, New York. She chaired the New York State Dental Association New Dentist Committee, is the International College of Dentists – USA Section Fellow Ambassador of Social Media, and served the new dentists on the American Dental Association Council on Dental Benefit Programs for the 2020-21 term. She is also among the recipients of the 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Awards.