I am writing this at what I hope to be the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. My dental practice is currently open on a limited basis to see emergency patients for the foreseeable future. If you’re a dentist, then you also know how much this pandemic has been affecting our entire practice. Although I’m understandably afraid about the uncertainty of this unprecedented situation, I am not panicking. In fact, the last decade taught me that the world is constantly evolving, and the most successful people are those who can adapt and adjust to it.
In dentistry, as in life, I have found that there are many people who follow the beaten path without hesitation because, in their eyes, there is only one “right” path. When asked to genuinely consider new options, their response can be, “Well no, because this is the way it’s always been done.” On the other hand, I learned early on that success comes to those who can stay flexible and open-minded.
I grew up on Long Island, New York, as a first-generation Filipino-American. Being a natural people-pleaser, I was heavily influenced throughout childhood by the expectations set by my family, friends and society. Nevertheless, rather than follow in the footsteps of most Filipinos in my community who became nurses, in high school, I decided to break from the mold and pursue a career in dentistry.
Like most teens, college for me was a time of major personal growth. I remember setting foot on campus at Tufts University in Boston confidently knowing exactly how the next 20-plus years of my life would play out. It looked like this: Graduate. Go to Dental School. Meet my future husband (probably a doctor or a lawyer). Graduate. Get married. Move back to New York. Open my own dental practice. Buy a house close to my hometown so my kids can grow up around their aunties and cousins. Live happily ever after …
My worldview expanded dramatically during my undergraduate studies, however. I was exposed to many different ideas and people, which continued as I moved on to Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. While there, not only did I learn dental skills like how to prep a crown, but I also found my own voice and identity. Most importantly, the biases and expectations I carried with me my whole life began to fade away, and I was able to see opportunities with a fresh set of eyes.
The first major break from my preconceived life plan occurred in the relationship department. While all of my dental-school girlfriends were going on dates with guys who worked in the Financial District in Boston, I ended up dating this rocker dude with long hair. My parents were definitely not thrilled when they first learned of our relationship, but I trusted my own judgment and intuition and ended up pursuing that relationship further. To everyone’s happy surprise, including my own, Shaun ended up being my true love as well as my most trusted advisor and now husband.
Around this same time in dental school, there was a clear and overwhelming belief shared by my classmates and the dental faculty that the most respected and prestigious postgraduate options were to pursue a dental specialty, to complete a general practice residency or to join a private practice. Still, none of these options appealed to me.
To further complicate matters, new licensing guidelines were established in New York state – where I had always dreamed of having my own practice – that required all dentists to complete one of these postgraduate programs to practice dentistry. I finally found clarity during my third year of dental school, when I had the privilege of attending the ASDA National Leadership Conference. This is where I first genuinely considered another postgraduate option: taking a job with a Dental Support Organization. I learned about Pacific Dental Services and met my future boss and mentor, Dr. Cody Mugleston. He was passionate about mentoring young dentists, something I also felt strongly about, and he offered me a job as an associate dentist in Las Vegas upon graduation.
I was beyond excited to land what felt like the ideal job for me, but I faced judgment and discouragement from some dental faculty and classmates who accused me of “selling out” by accepting a job in corporate dentistry. Again, rather than play into the expectations of others, I decided to accept the position and form my own opinion. As an East Coaster, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up moving to Las Vegas! But, I knew I had to chase an amazing opportunity that checked off all of the “must-haves” on my list, namely getting to work in a state-of-the-art office equipped with all the latest dental technology, working with a doctor who was committed to my growth as a dentist and getting firsthand experience and mentorship with the business aspect of dentistry.
This last must-have was perhaps most critical for me, because as the first person in my family to become a dentist, I lacked the connections and resources to start my own dental practice immediately after graduating dental school. Looking back, I am so glad I followed my intuition and accepted my job offer with Dr. Mugleston because I was able to fast track my career. Partnering with Pacific Dental Services allowed me to own and operate my dream practice by the age of 26! By independently assessing the opportunity at hand rather than relying on other people’s opinions on the way things should be, I put myself in an ideal position to achieve my goals. My career is now coming full circle, as I am mentoring my three associate dentists at my office.
Honing my personal niche and passion within dentistry was the next major step in my career. When I first became a dentist, my friends and family would constantly reach out seeking a second opinion on what their own dentists were recommending. They were often confused and overwhelmed, and this led to a distrust of their dentist. I realized that this was a HUGE area of opportunity for me. If I could improve communication with my patients, then I knew they would trust me as their dentist. This realization influenced the way I educated my patients; I made sure that I was relatable and easy to understand.
In February 2018, I debuted Oral Health Minute on Instagram. At the time, the active dental accounts on social media were generally dedicated to sharing clinical cases. My goal was to do something different that wouldn’t narrow my audience to only the dental community. I wanted to create quick and entertaining educational videos that appealed to real people and potential patients in order to change the way people view dentists. Oral Health Minute was well received, and since its inception, I have grown my social media following to over 12,000 followers and amassed hundreds of thousands of views on my videos! It’s so cool to learn that other dentists are using my videos to help educate their patients, as well!
Inevitably, family and personal life grows and changes alongside career. Last summer, my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. I remember when I was pregnant, I received endless advice from family, friends and patients. There was a recurring theme, and it freaked me out to think that I would become a completely different person after I had a child. People would tell me that my goals and dreams would change, that I wouldn’t want to go back to work, and even that all my best days would be behind me! Part of me felt like this couldn’t possibly be all true, but then again, I had never had a child before, so I just had to wait and see …
I’ve found that being pregnant and being a mom has not prevented me from chasing my dreams. I like to think that being a parent can give us superpowers, so we have even more clarity on what’s a true priority. Indeed, as much as I deeply love my family, I am lucky to also love my work. I’m very passionate about shattering perceptions on what women can achieve. While this whole #doctorbossmom thing is certainly challenging, I want to show women everywhere that you can have it all, you just have to find your passion and give it your all!
By following my heart and going against the status quo, I was able to find my soulmate, start my own business and establish my own brand on social media. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Self-trust is the first secret of success.” I know these are uncertain times for everyone, and it’s difficult to predict how things will play out. But in my experience, uncertainty can also provide opportunities. By being flexible and innovative and by trusting ourselves and our own judgment, we can come through this stronger and happier!