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TMSAtalks Session: “Quitting: Not on the Menu”

By Rahul Bhatia

On Friday May 5, 2017, TMSAtalks invited Dr. Sumitha Ahmed, a Dental Hygienist and Professor at UNC, to TMSA to share her life and professional experiences with the High School students. Dr. Ahmed talked to the students on how against all odds, she never gave up and successfully pursued her ambition of becoming a professional doctor as well as academician. She also provided an overview for students interested in pursuing dentistry as a career option.

Dr. Ahmed earned her Bachelor’s in Dental Surgery from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in India. She moved to the U.S.A. in 2004 and worked part time in support roles in private practice settings.

To pursue her career goals, she returned to school in 2007 to earn a certificate in Dental Hygiene from UNC School of Dentistry at Chapel Hill. She also earned her Master of Science Degree and a Certificate in Clinical Operative Dentistry in 2014 from the Department of Operative Dentistry at UNC.

She shared the tough times she faced in her life during this pursuit. Besides the rigors of medical school due to unexpected complications she went through emergency spine surgery, lost sensation in her legs, had a family with 2 young boys at home to take care and went through rehab/post-operative healing while pursuing her goal. Throughout her treatments, she was constantly in touch with the Dean expressing her interest in continuing with the program and as soon as she could move, she was in the classroom working on getting her degree completed. Besides the encouragement and support she got from her family, friends and teachers, her determination to succeed and ‘Never Say Die’ was the key in achieving her goals.

Dr. Ahmed now works as a Clinical Assistant Professor, and Director of Pre-Clinical Operative Dentistry Course at UNC Chapel Hill. In addition, she serves as the Co-Director of Educational Research Group within the Department of Operative Dentistry. 

Dr. Ahmed explained aspects (as listed below) that students would need to focus on when considering dentistry as a career option:

  • She spoke about the various avenues students can pursue in Dentistry. Students that like working with their hands and want to go into medicine should consider Dentistry as a career path.
  • Dental Hygienist certification require 2 years. At the end of two years you get a Certificate in dental hygiene.
  • The other option is to take two years of undergrad with courses that will be considered as prerequisites for Dental Hygienist Certification and study two more years to get a Bachelors in Dental Hygiene. You may then apply to dental school after taking the qualifying exam – Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  • If you do not wish to go the dental hygiene route, you can complete a 4-year undergraduate degree and then take the DAT to apply to dental school for a Graduate degree.
  • Private practice dentists typically work 4 days a week. Alternatively, you may choose to become a teacher/professor like Dr. Ahmed.
  • The other career options are to work as a consulting dentist with various hospitals and private practices, or as a researcher for companies that produce dental products or a consulting dentist at a dental laboratory.
  • To graduate and become a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), students must complete 4 years of dental school (Undergraduate Degree + 4 years). You can go into private practice after these 4 years, as opposed to 8-year minimum required for most other medical fields.
  • Some folks choose to do a 3-year specialty residency or a 1-year advanced education in general dentistry before going into private practice. However, this extra degree is not mandatory for private practice. 
  • If you wish to pursue dentistry, contact your local dentist’s office and ask to volunteer/ shadow or secure an internship there. Most clinics will gladly accept help with sterilization or shadowing.
  • For a fresh graduate after 4 years of dental school, the pay will be about $100-120K annually. If you are a specialist and work as an associate in a practice then it can be $150-220K annually. If you have your own private practice, you can expect to earn close to $500K annually with an established practice.
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