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MyView: Worth the wait

August 18, 2016

By Daniel Bernstein, D.D.S.

Editor's note: Dr. Daniel Bernstein wrote this essay for his application to general practice residency programs and shared it with the ADA News.

Daniel Bernstein, D.D.S.
Waiting. Lines of people, just waiting. Some wait through cold nights, others wait through hot days. Some stand while some sit. Waiting for dental care. Waiting for pain relief. Waiting for esthetic improvement to their smile. I have seen them wait in the villages of Nepal, the mountains of Peru, the Indian Health Service clinics of Arizona, the mobile clinics throughout North Carolina, the Medicaid offices of Asheville, North Carolina, and the student-run volunteer offices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These patients are waiting to receive a skill and an art; a trade that relies upon trust; a service feared by some while revered by others. All of this tireless waiting pushes me. It motivates me to pursue greatness. If they're going to wait for me, sacrifice their time, money and energy all for me, it makes me want to be the best that I can be. My desire to pursue postgraduate education stems from a simple goal — I want the dentistry that I perform to be worth the wait.

In order to fully address the reasons behind my pursuit of a residency program, I will address the past, present and future; namely, my discovery and pursuit of dentistry, my traits that I can currently bring to a residency program and my future dental goals. Starting with the past, my journey began in a small town in Alabama. I grew up in a household where dinner conversations were rich with chatter about staff and management decisions revolving around the scrap yard that my father owns. As the years of my education marched on, I found myself gravitating not toward ownership of the scrap yard but to dentistry — a perfect combination of the small business skills that I learned from my dad, the science that came easily to me in the classroom and the ability to help others, which gives purpose and meaning to my life. I haven't turned back since. At the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, I feel fortunate to have learned the art form of dentistry from some of the best clinicians in the world. I have consistently sought out opportunities outside of dental school to advance my skill set within the country and abroad. With a curriculum geared toward maximizing clinical experience and a habit of filling my free time with dental volunteer work, I am confident that I have developed a core foundation of diverse clinical skills in dentistry. However, these past experiences have only served to highlight how much I have yet to learn.

I was once told that a good resident does what is asked, while a great resident does not need to be asked in the first place. Presently, I believe that my hard work ethic, positive attitude and desire to learn would allow me to be a great resident. Further, while some view dentistry as a solitary career in which dentists are competitors, I firmly believe that the ability to work with others is a pillar of dental success. Outside of the classroom and the clinic, I have grown these skills by creating my own programs to bring colleagues of mine together. The program that I am most proud of is called Bridging the Gap, which pairs UNC dental students in a mentoring relationship with UNC predental undergraduates and includes over 160 annual members. Creating several programs has shown me that working with others breeds a positive collective attitude, makes the task more enjoyable and maximizes the pace of learning and quality of ideas. Working hard and learning together with other residents is a significant motivator in my application to a postgraduate program.

Regarding the future, my aim is to attain a personal mastery in my endeavors. I have gravitated toward prosthodontic work through dental school, primarily due to the technical and artistic challenge that it offers and the rewards of patient emotion that is involved. Leading the Prosthodontic Interest Group and helping UNC's prosthodontics department chair with clinical research have been valuable experiences but I remain unsure of whether specializing in prosthodontics is right for me. My exploration of this specialty has, however, clarified my desire to hold my work to the highest standard. No matter the role of prosthodontics in my future, I am confident that my involvement in a dental residency program will greatly further my journey in performing state-of-the-art dentistry.

In summary, my accomplishments in the past have grown my appetite for what I want out of the future. I hope to further my education by exploring a wide array of treatment options, to hone my skills by performing advanced procedures held to a high standard and to work in an environment with a team of other motivated students dedicated to the well being of a patient population in need of care. I have sought out competitive postgraduate programs that offer this training, structure and standard of clinical excellence. In return, I will enrich my residency with a diverse clinical knowledge base and a positive attitude toward learning and working hard. My aim is for my postgraduate dental residency to enrich my mastery of dentistry so that once my patient's wait is over, the care they receive will be worth it.

Dr. Bernstein graduated from the UNC School of Dentistry in 2016. He is currently a resident at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.