The Mentorship Spot
A Dentist’s Perspective on Careers in Healthcare
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By Liangchi Zhou
For this article, Liangchi Zhou (a second year student at the University of Western Ontario) interviewed Larry Zhou, who is a graduating student at the University of Toronto School of Dentistry. We asked him to give some insight on pursuing a career in healthcare and to reflect on his journey thus far.
Can you tell me about yourself?
Hi! My name is Larry, and I’m from Toronto. I received my Bachelor’s from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in Medical Sciences with an Honours Specialization in Pathology and Toxicology. I also received my Master’s in Pathology from UWO. Currently, I am completing my degree in Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Toronto.
So, I know that you originally intended to pursue medicine. Why did you want to pursue medicine and did you think it was the right choice for your lifestyle?
I always liked the sciences in high school, and I couldn’t imagine myself studying anything else, so I applied to life science programs for my undergrad. In undergrad, the science courses I took solidified my interest. However, studying medical sciences in undergrad meant I was limited to a few major career options: research, teaching/academia, and graduate/professional school (medicine, dentistry, optometry, physio, etc.). Before applying to medical school, I didn’t have a burning interest to enter medicine, but it seemed like the path to choose given my grades and experiences. Honestly, I didn’t know much about what a career in medicine would look like at the time. Based on shadowing and talking to others, I felt that medicine was a respected profession that included a solid career and steady income. At that time, it was hard to say if I knew medicine was the best fit for me, but I had to apply since I needed a plan for what I was going to do after undergrad. Looking back now, I’d say it’s a stable career with exciting challenges, and amazing opportunities to help the less fortunate in your community and abroad (ex. Doctors Without Borders).
Is there anything you wish you did differently in undergrad?
Absolutely not! Work hard, play hard. You only get one experience in undergrad, so I think it’s really important to be able to enjoy it with your friends. You can gain a lot of knowledge (on what to do and what not to do) through spending time with good friends. You will keep the experiences, skills, and good character you gain from this time and use them to thrive in your future schools and workplaces.
What lessons did you learn from applying to medical school and throughout your academic experiences?
I learned about the things I don’t like doing, which are precisely the things I need to work on the most: writing essays and preparing for interviews. I generally don’t like to practice things I don’t have an interest in, so it was difficult for me to stay focused during these tasks; I still struggle with them to this day. Maybe it’s because I didn’t care enough to work harder for those things.
With regards to the applications process, I learned that there are so many applicants, all with similar grades and experiences. These applicants are judged solely on paper, plus 10–15 minute interviews with different interviewers. It’s difficult to put yourself on a pedestal and sell yourself in front of a stranger. Furthermore, it’s hard for the interviewer to judge a person’s character within that time frame. I feel like some of my current classmates aren’t really fit to be dentists, but they passed the interview. Maybe they’re just good at selling themselves and got in instead of someone who is genuinely nice but is a little more reserved.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while applying to medical school?
Asking for references was a hassle because I always felt bad for putting extra work on the professors. Like I said earlier, writing essays and preparing for the interviews were hard too.
When and how did you decide to apply to dental school?
After I finished my master’s degree. I didn’t want to rewrite the new MCAT, nor did I want to go through the lengthy application process again. Again, I probably didn’t care enough for medicine. It wasn’t a do or die situation for me.
Actually, research would’ve been my first choice: become a professor and pursue academia. But I decided against it because it’s too much work to be a professor. Having a lab is like having a job that never ends. Always thinking about research, always stressed about getting grants and funding for the lab. There would be a lack of freedom since I’d have to take a job at ANY university that would offer me a position and likely would stay at that location for a very long time. That sounded like too much stress for the rest of my life, so I chose dental school instead. I liked dental school because I’m good with my hands, and it’s a stable career that allows me to find a job anywhere I’d like.
In your opinion, what does it take to be a successful dentist or doctor?
Patient rapport. Empathy. Confidence, but not arrogance.
The thing is, patients can’t tell if you do a godlike treatment (dental wise). To them, it’s all the same. What makes the difference for them is when the doctor or dentist is willing to listen to their story and make them feel like you care about their overall well-being. Patients understand when they’re being unreasonable, but they still just want you to listen. If you build a strong relationship with your patients, they are more likely to agree with the treatment that YOU decide is best for them. My favourite phrase is “If you were my mom, I would urge you to get this treatment instead of the other one”. It makes them feel like they’re properly cared for.
Patients can’t tell if you’re the best dentist or doctor. If you are confident and honest with everything you say/do, they will trust you and might become a regular patient for life. If you aren’t willing to listen to your patients, no matter how smart you are, they won’t return.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about pursuing a career in healthcare?
There are a lot of great careers in the field. Main thing being… you can get a stable job anywhere you want to live. You aren’t stuck in one location (unlike many other careers). I know it’s hard to decide if it’s the right choice for you, but try your best, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If something else outside of science interests you, then go for it. I know a lot of friends who love their non-science jobs. Getting into professional school (Medicine, Dentistry, Optometry, etc.) doesn’t mean your life is set. There will always be challenges in life, but challenge is what makes life exciting. Failure to achieve is part of life, some things just aren’t meant to be. Life would be too boring if everything went exactly how you want it to go. My friends who are in med (specializing or working) are quite stressed. Are they happy that they have a stable job? Sure! But they also doubt whether or not med was right for them due to the sheer amount of stress. At the end of the day, go for what interests you and remember, you have the rest of your life to try different things.
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