Nothing can scare my father. Whether it is a giant spider, an aggressive encounter, or career adversity - he is never intimidated and handles everything with grace. Nevertheless, before visiting a dentist, my father would be so anxious that he would lose sleep the night before. He avoided dental visits as much as possible, but the inevitable visit happened after his falling teeth impaired his ability to eat solid food. After successful teeth implants, my father was able to eat the food that he loves. Moreover, he could laugh with confidence again as he no longer needed to worry about hiding his teeth loss. Despite the positive outcome, my father’s dental visit-induced anxiety persists. I keep wondering if my father’s experience could be enhanced if his anxiety were more closely addressed. Therefore, throughout my undergraduate study, I focused on exploring and developing the characteristics that would contribute to becoming a competent and empathetic dentist.
Effective communication skills and the ability to empathize with others are essential in building a professional and trusting dentist-patient relationship. As a behavioral health volunteer at [name of hospital], I worked closely with patients with dementia. Due to the nature of their neurological conditions, I found myself in many unexpected situations that required fast and effective problem-solving. Once, while accompanying a female elderly during a church service, she became confused upon arrival despite previously expressing interest in attending the service. I tried to reassure her, but she could not hear me well due to hearing impairment. As a result, she became agitated and repeated questions loudly, disrupting the priest’s speech. As more and more attendants looked over, I gently asked to escort the patient out of the room. While outside, I explained to her why we had to leave. Throughout our interaction, I empathized with her by understanding that her behavior was not due to ill intentions but rather her unpredictable condition. From our conversation, I realized that the patient wanted the companionship she missed from leaving the service. Therefore, I offered to chat with her and we talked for the rest of my service visit. During all my visits, I took the initiative to act with open-mindedness, compassion, and empathy to avoid taking advantage of the already vulnerable population. By doing so, I am better equipped to validate their feelings and resolve any conflicts while maintaining a safe environment.
In addition to an empathetic personality, a professional dentist should feel passionate about innovating through research and advocating for their patients. For the past year, I have been working as a research student at the [name of university]. Prior to this position, I had no experience in clinical research and my knowledge of kidney cancer was limited. However, I was always passionate about learning and improving patient care through research. After quickly catching up on the required literature reading, I became involved in multiple clinical research projects, including my own project on genetic screening in kidney cancer. I interviewed patients who fulfilled the criteria for genetic screening referrals in order to build a database for future research on related topics. Knowing the importance of genetic screening in ensuring more effective surveillance and treatment for patients and families, I advocated for genetic screening during patient interviews. In addition to asking patients research-related questions, I answered all their questions regarding germline testing to my full capacity. I noted the questions that I wasn’t able to answer in order to relay them to my principal investigator for his expertise. I am currently continuing the research in genetic screening as my thesis project, which assesses patient awareness of the procedure and identifying reasons why patients are interested or concerned about such procedure. I believe that it is as important to share information obtained from research with patients as conducting the research. Therefore, I plan to use the collected information to construct educational pamphlets and videos which will increase overall patient awareness and help them make informed decisions regarding germline testing.
In addition to the willingness to learn and share knowledge, a competent dentist should be eager to apply their learning to give back to their community. Volunteering for [name of organization], a [name of city]-based non-profit organization, I aided weekly workshops that teach elementary school students about the topics of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). As my education on STEM strongly influenced my career planning, I felt compelled to help introduce these fields to students living in communities with low socioeconomic status who otherwise wouldn’t get such exposure from school alone. This opportunity also allowed me to interact with students from diverse backgrounds. Once, there was a student on the autism spectrum in my class. I took the initiative to arrange a meeting with the workshop instructor and the schoolteacher to discuss how to help the student get the most from the workshops. After the meeting, the instructor and I devised a detailed strategy to help the student maintain focus during class. As the instructor would be occupied with teaching, I would implement the strategy by checking up on the student frequently. I used a reward technique which allowed the student to play their favorite game for 5 minutes after finishing the task assigned by the instructor. At the end of the term, we received positive feedback from the student’s family saying that the student enjoyed the class and showed the family the coding technique they learned.
From my father’s experience, I realized the importance of dental care - the health of teeth could have a significant impact on one’s quality of life, both in the ability to carry out daily tasks and one’s self-confidence. I felt grateful for the skillfulness of my father’s dentist, as the success of the procedure brought ease and confidence back to my father’s life. Since then, I have been identifying and developing the skills that would help me become a dentist who not only has the skill to provide quality treatment, but also the empathy to address patient anxiety. Seeing the smile on my father’s face after the procedure makes me want to become a dentist who can help bring the smiles back to my future patients.