One of the biggest reasons I became a dentist is because I wanted a career in which I could connect with people and help them with their overall well-being. I never realized the extent of how that would end up impacting my life and how priceless that is to me.
I am a fee-for-service, sole practitioner who has been in private practice for more than 16 years. I have seen my pediatric patients grow up, go to college, start careers, get married, and have kids who are now my patients. I have heard of travels and adventures that make me feel as if I have been all over the world. These are the things that I had dreamed of being a part of as I began my practice.
But I never thought of the sadness that I would witness. I remember a patient of mine who used to share stories of how he loved to swim nude every day in his backyard pool, and I remember the day he told me he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I remember watching him emaciate with every appointment. He would come in monthly toward his end because he could no longer brush his teeth and nobody was doing it for him. I remember the last time I saw Lee. He was a 6-foot-4, hardly 95-pound man who could no longer walk. I have watched married patients lose spouses due to illnesses. I’ve seen the sadness and the exhaustion in one as he or she takes care of the other — and I’ve seen that same patient try to find strength to move on after the loss.
I remember after I had my first son, a patient of mine came in for a routine visit. She was a divorced single mother with two boys. At the time, the older son was 11 and very sweet and outgoing. The younger son was timid and quiet, only 8 years old then. The eldest had gone on a hunting trip with his father and was shot killed in an accident. When Mom came in, it reminded her of all those visits where she would bring her boys together, and she began to cry. I knew her horrific story and told her she didn’t have to be here. She stayed. We both silently cried as I did her exam. I wish I could have been a stronger person, but having kids of your own makes things hit you in a whole other way.
You see, if I wasn’t fee-for-service, I would never be able to spend time like this getting to know my patients. I wonder: If I was riddled with insurance or a part of corporate dentistry, would I have been able to attain my real dream?
It is a privilege to be trusted and allowed to treat a person. I am forever grateful to my profession, because it has provided me with an avenue to be a doctor, a partner, and a friend to so many people. My team and I truly impact our patients and improve not just their oral health, but also their lives. While some of these memories weigh heavily in my mind, these people, their stories, will resonate in my heart forever.
Published originally at The Daily Grind.