Specialist Dental Group has launched an on-going series of blog posts by our individual dental specialists. All views provided are the dentist’s own opinions and are posted on this blog as part of our on-going efforts to educate the public about dental issues and other matters of interest relating to dentistry and healthcare.
Profession = Training + Vocation
I’ve been a dentist for 17 years. Add the four years of dental school and that will make it 21 years in the profession.
The word “profession” refers to training that leads to a specific skill or skill set that allows one to work at a level of expertise”, possibly for the rest of one’s work life. To me, “profession” also includes the word “vocation” – implying the use of one’s talents/training/profession for the greater good of others. I see this combination of training + vocation reflected in the medical profession in general, and dentistry, in particular.
Seeing patients at the clinic is part of my everyday life. Sometimes, the work is complex and challenging; other times, less so. Imagine working with your hands, hunched over a mouth, adjusting the light source to see clearly in order to do good work. All this at the same time while trying to keep a pleasant demeanor when faced with a person in pain. It’s no easy task.
What keeps me going? The satisfaction of a job well done, relieving pain and bringing comfort to the patient are a major part of the rewards of being a dentist. Most gratifying though, is to see a person who was initially so fearful of dental treatment, presenting with a mouthful of infection, who can be eventually restored to full oral health and function.
No matter how difficult or tiring the procedure had been for me, the satisfaction is priceless. It is in these situations that I feel God is using me to help others.
Learning and Teaching
The training of a dental student is tough, to say the least. They need to transfer the knowledge from textbooks to patient treatment, honing their technical skills within the short span of four years.
During my days as a dental student, I had the benefit of having my father, Dr Henry Lee, as a mentor. He was an oral surgeon of amazing skill and speed. But above all, he displayed his humanity in relating to his patients, always listening and being empathetic towards them. He was also ever willing to pass on his skills and experience to other dentists.
I didn’t realize that I inherited that innate love for teaching from him too until I accepted a part-time teaching position at the dental faculty at the National University of Singapore last year. It’s only one morning a week supervising the undergraduate clinic in Periodontics. But after a few sessions, I realized that I enjoyed relating to the students. I also brought all the years of clinical experience into teaching them – looking out for signs in the mouth that textbooks can’t describe or giving tips on working on areas that are difficult to access.
I’ve discovered that teaching is a 2-way street – as my students pick up clinical skills, I am also learning something from them as well. It may not be about dentistry per se, but maybe discovering something about myself as a person and seeing everything from a different perspective.
I look forward to going to work each day (though this was not necessarily what I thought as a young dentist). I feel really blessed to have a job I love, and doubly blessed when my patients express their appreciation after seeing the results of their treatment.
Dr Helena Lee is a Periodontist with Specialist Dental Group. She holds an appointment as an Adjunct Clinical Tutor in the Department of Preventive Dentistry, National University of Singapore. She has co-authored several papers in peer-reviewed journals and has lectured at professional local and international conferences. Dr Lee has a special interest in the treatment and prevention of periodontal disease, gingival plastic surgery, soft and hard tissue grafting and dental implants.