By Mirissa D. Price
The sun soaked my shoulders. Through my scrubs, I could feel a warmth I had missed, having spent the past five hours in the dental school’s basement lab.
As my eyes adjusted to the light – and the macro-scale vision – I spotted my Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) family, smiling and laughing. I claimed a seat at the table, and together, we fell into a conversation of ‘what if.’
‘What if we were millionaires and could do anything in the world?’ someone posed, imagining for a minute we didn’t have to miss the rest of this gorgeous day to practice drilling.
‘I would be a teacher,’ a few said. ‘Or a counselor.’
‘I would donate money and do charity,’ someone reflected. ‘And I’d also donate to HSDM.’
‘I would buy the hands of a trained dentist,’ said another friend.
‘I would clone our professor.’
Through the laughter, someone interrupted, bringing us back to ourselves: ‘I would still be a dentist.’
Now with only days to commencement, it’s hard to imagine doing anything other than dentistry. It’s hard to witness our patients smiling bigger and brighter, with greater oral health and self-efficacy, and feel anything other than inspired. It’s hard to look back at the communities we served at HSDM, globally, and in the clinics throughout Greater Boston, and want anything other than the ability to work with patients of all cultures and backgrounds to overcome barriers to care. It’s hard to be anything but inspired by the colleagues who once joined us in dreaming of a life outside the classroom, and the mentors who guided us on this dental journey.
The HSDM community was a gift. The basement lab was our home and our colleagues a family. There were nights we drilled until 3:00 a.m., and evenings our instructors stayed just as late to help us. There were days we burned fingertips and split ends learning to make dentures, and afternoons we ran out of songs on our playlists to accompany our efforts. There were sacrifices we each made and strengths we discovered within ourselves and our community in order to develop a skill that could be of service to others. There were opportunities and research questions that redirected and re-inspired us on our paths.
And there were patients who moved us in ways we could have never imagined:
- The woman with so much anxiety, she wouldn’t enter the clinic; who eventually trusted her provider to offer care.
- The immigrant who scaled the floors to get her calculus back, and opened our eyes to the cultural differences that shape a patient’s experience.
- The child who saw his first dentist at HSDM’s Give Kids A Smile.
- And the gentleman who learned his teeth were not hopeless after radiation, and began to brush again after so many years.
My senior case presentation was of a patient whose smile grew in both size and health over the course of our work together. We addressed his oral health as a part of his medical condition, and became a cohesive part of his medical team. I learned so much from my work with this patient, from clinical skills to interprofessional care, and even learned a few golf terms in the process.
And sitting in my class’ case presentations, I am amazed at how in our own ways and with our own, unique patients, we each had such an experience. In a case completion model of care, we each developed a partnership with our patients and accomplished care that changed our patient’s health and self-perception. Many of us even helped our patients establish trust in the dental provider and an appreciation for the medical significance of oral health.
In the warm summer of 2017, over dental family lunches, we dreamed of a brief escape from the basement. We watched the fourth-year students clear out their lockers, as we began to fill ours with plastic teeth and patient casts. We pushed to get them to close as they collected so many items, and we didn’t know what would fall when we opened our lockers back up. But we always caught each other’s drills and casts. We never let one another, or one another’s casts, fall.
And because of the HSDM community, because of our families and loved ones, and the many mentors we’ve found along the way, we graduate together. We step out of the basement lab one final time, not to take a break from the dental world but to step into it and to make a difference with it. We step out into (fingers crossed) the warm summer sun of commencement with the gift and honor of using dentistry to promote healthy smiles and craft positive change.
Congratulations and thank you to all my colleagues, and the mentors and loved ones who helped each oral physician of the HSDM Class of 2019 on our journey to this joyous day.
About the author:
Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD Candidate at HSDM and rising pediatric dentist at Boston Children’s Hospital. She serves as a Scholar of Dental Education at HSDM and a Give Kids A Smile Leadership Ambassador. Price’s research and outreach interests include social-emotional development in youth; addressing barriers and access to pediatric dental care; interprofessional collaboration; and dental education. As a child, doctors told Price that she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain. Instead, Price uses her medical experiences to inspire others, living each day with a passion to spread pain-free smiles through her dental work, writing, improv comedy performances, and nonprofit work with children.
Mirissa's story is part of a series of profiles about the graduating Class of 2019.