Naval dental career fondly recalled in dentist's book
Farmington, N.H.—Expressing his deep admiration for nautical and military culture, in 2011 general dentist Bill Trently published a book on his life as an officer in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps.
Dr. Trently wrote "Snapshot: Ship's Dentists" (iUniverse) to "put this work together to give back to an organization that is like a big family—maybe the book might stimulate the interest of dental students so perhaps some might consider serving in the Navy," he wrote. "And as it portrays an alternative career path in dentistry, for nonmilitary colleagues it might open up new perspectives on this wonderful profession we share."
Dr. Trently meticulously recorded his days as a dentist in the Dental Corps—which began with Officer Indoctrination School in 1987—keeping a number of documents and records that included all his instruction manuals from the Navy, brochures he collected during his travels, schedules of ports visited and date logs. He kept it all in boxes tucked away for safekeeping where they would remain for years.
"I never knew I would write about it one day, but since I've always been the type of person who keeps things, years later I had a lot of data to work with," Dr. Trently told the ADA News.
In the 1990s, he moved to New Hampshire to open his private practice. At dental society events, he discovered that many of his colleagues were interested in his career in the Navy Dental Corps and wanted to know more about what it was like to practice dentistry on an aircraft carrier while traveling the world. An idea for the book began to emerge when he recognized this was the type of experience that would help other young dentists launch their careers.
"I felt fortunate that I was able to experience the whole range of things you could encounter in the military," he said. "I was lucky to work at a small clinic and a large clinic, practice aboard a ship and travel overseas. It's a neat story."
Dr. Trently was born in Scranton, Pa., and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 1986. During his junior year of dental school, a recruiter for the Navy visited the school.
"They never had to sell me on anything," he wrote. "I liked what I saw, had a strong sense this was a good deal, and willfully bought the whole idea even though I never considered myself a military type."
A career as a military officer would offer a number of benefits that suited him: he was drawn to group practice settings, he could take time to learn how to run a practice, the benefits were good and there would be opportunities to teach or go into research.
Taking time to strictly treat patients also provided "freedom from private practice financial burdens," he wrote.
"I didn't know where I wanted to set up roots, and a military career is a good way to buy some time. That was one big consideration—I didn't want to get involved in purchasing a practice, and running the business side of a practice right after dental school. I wasn't ready to dive right in. I wanted to focus on treatment."
That's one of the factors that drives many dentists to seek careers in the federal dental services. In the military, dentists can hone clinical skills without having to develop a practice.
Dentists in the federal services enjoy signing bonuses, loan repayment and quality continuing education, and many go on to make an entire career of service in the U.S. Public Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy. Others—like Dr. Trently—fulfill their service obligations and transition to a career in private practice. (For more information on the federal dental services, visit Federal Dental Services on ADA.org.)
For Dr. Trently, the Dental Corps gave him the skills necessary for navigating a civilian dental career. His time in Officer Indoctrination School helped ready him for navigating a Navy career and also to handle positions of greater authority: much like managing a dental practice.
"It's absolutely like running a dental practice," he said, "because you learn how to manage people, work with a number of different personnel and learn how to set up protocols. Most of all, you spend your time treating patients, so by the time you enter into a private practice, you're ready for that."
Dr. Trently's book reads like a step-by-step guide for a civilian dentist entering military life, where his training included everything from paperwork to mass casualty drills. He recounts his experiences on board the USS John F. Kennedy, which he likens to "living in what was often described as a city afloat"; his introduction to the Navy's Branch Dental Clinic; and global travel.
He self-published the book on iUniverse, a resource that helps authors publish their works professionally. "Snapshot: Ship's Dentists" is available on iUniverse, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and as an e-book. It's also his second book. In 2009, he wrote, "The World is Around You, But You Are in Your Car," which is about "the relentless pursuit of the perfect life," said Dr. Trently.
He continues to write and mentor youth interested in dental careers, passing on career advice to younger generations.
"We've had kids from high school in our office doing some job shadowing, and it's been really fun for all of us," he said. "Given the job satisfaction, variety of colorful patients, and interesting and challenging situations we experience daily, how could anyone not want to be in the dental profession?"