Preparing for the future

Carl O. Atkins Jr. (D.D.S. ’83, Pedo ’85)

It starts simply enough; as young people, we want to emulate individuals who positively impact our lives, such as assisting a teacher or being a “junior lifeguard.” As teenagers, we discover the satisfaction in showing a younger child how to complete a task we have already mastered or tutoring another student. What we are doing, in reality, is teaching by example – passing knowledge on to others. This is especially meaningful when sharing things
that we enjoy.

As an undergraduate student, my most enjoyable clinical experience was in the Pediatric Dental Clinic. Here the emphasis was on the child – gaining their trust, helping them cooperate and managing their behavior with finesse rather than treating them like small adults. The faculty were adept at easing children’s fears and were able to make receiving dental care a positive, lighthearted experience for both the patients and their parents. We learned to be confident and nurturing, and to “get things right” on the first try!

I could easily see that this was the specialty for me. I enjoyed using skills I had begun developing earlier in life (as a swimming instructor, for example) – relating to children, easing their fears, while using my clinical dental skills in a fun environment. I tried to absorb the best characteristics of each instructor I encountered, learning from their clinical experience which techniques were most effective.

Fast forward thirty years – through many, many cases, both complex and routine, I have been able to ascertain what is successful in this specialty and what is perhaps less valuable. In my busy private practice, I have been able to fine-tune the care delivered. Keeping it fun for the patient remains important, and interacting with children remains a daily pleasure for me. Each time I teach in the clinic, I bring a topic of interest for the undergraduates and residents to discuss during down time. I enjoy encouraging new dentists to apply their developing knowledge base and expand their skills, and I am happy for them to learn from both my successes and my failures. It is an honor to be part of preparing new dentists to care for our children.

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