Chapter 2: Four Students Remember their First Year
There is an old joke in which a tourist asks a New Yorker how you get to Carnegie Hall. The answer? Practice, practice, practice. Although they have their sights set on a different career path than Carnegie Hall, the four College of Dentistry students we introduced in the inaugural issue of the Dental Journal agreed that time spent practicing in the lab will help get them to their destination.
The four students—Chris Rhees, a husband and new father; Nicole Goettemoeller, who was raised on an Ohio dairy farm; Hamza Dodo, a Nigerian native who grew up in Cleveland Heights; and third-generation College of Dentistry student Jordan Mayberry—also experienced other common realizations: the in-class work is challenging, but the professors are supportive; and the first year of dental school has proven more than ever that each chose the right profession.
For Nicole Goettemoeller, the first year of dental school has confirmed that she chose the right direction for her career. “Every day I feel like I’m in exactly the right place,” she said. Goettemoeller isn’t the only one who believes in her future as a dentist. Earlier this year, she was chosen to receive the 2014 Richard C. Veler, DDS, and Betty G. Veler Dental Scholarship, a full-tuition, renewable award. She earned the scholarship based on the program’s requirements for outstanding academic success, demonstrated interest in professional service, and exceptional character. “It is truly remarkable that someone I have never met believes in the future of dentistry enough to fund my entire education.”
The first person she called after the news was personally delivered to her by Patrick M. Lloyd, dean of the College of Dentistry, was her mother. “It was so special to share the news with her because she has been such a huge support in everything I have done.”
As one of the few Veler scholars over the years, Goettemoeller said she is humbled and more motivated than ever. “I feel a responsibility to always do my best to represent my class and school, and am encouraged to work harder than ever to achieve my goals and make my supporters proud,” she said. “I honestly feel so blessed that sometimes it is hard for me to find the words. It is something I will always be grateful for and it will always affect my life and career.”
Chris Rhees came to dentistry the long way – by considering a number of other careers first, including welding, law, business, and becoming a pilot.
“I eventually elected to do a two-year mission for my church,” he said. It was a decision that changed the course of his career – and his life. During his mission assignment in Cleveland, he made friends with some dental students and discovered that dentistry appealed to him. He also met his future wife, Katie, and the two married just before Rhees began his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
When they returned to Ohio with their infant son, Carson, and took on the challenge of dental school, they knew the demands it would place on the family. Together, they are consciously making balance a priority. “I suppose I could have studied more and spent less time playing with my son, but that’s not the way we wanted to do it,” said Rhees as he reflected on his first year.
Rhees has recently accepted an Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and will serve as a dentist for the United States Air Force for a few years after graduation. He is excited about the opportunity for himself, as well as for his family. “We wanted that experience for our son,” he said. “And for me, it’s an opportunity to get a lot of experience and confidence in different procedures and techniques.” Typical of his adventurous spirit, he added, “Wherever they send us, we’re ready.”
As Hamza Dodo began his dental education he quickly realized, “this is a whole different playing field.” He found this especially to be true when it came to waxing teeth in the lab. “We’ve taken oral anatomy and I can describe a tooth off the top of my head,” he said. But in the lab, building that same tooth out of wax proved much more challenging. After working for more than an hour waxing a tooth in his first practical exam, Dodo said, “I try to fit the tooth into the jaw and it doesn’t fit. So I shave some wax down. It still won’t fit. I shave down more and more, and realize it’s not the wax that’s preventing the tooth from fitting, it’s that the whole thing is in backward.
The lesson, he said, is that procedures don’t always go smoothly, and dentistry requires quick thinking and action. “All of that practice in the lab comes into that one moment. Do you know what to do?”
In addition to his coursework, Dodo is continuing the student research project (Gender Differences in Mandibular Bone Mineral Distribution with Aging) he worked on last year under his mentor, Dr. Do-Gyoon Kim. “Actually, with everything that’s going on, I’m surprised at how much fun I’m having,” he said. “I’m thrilled with the program.”
As a third-generation College of Dentistry student, Jordan Mayberry has plenty to talk about at family gatherings. “They like to share war stories,” he said of his father, David ’80, and grandfather, Donald ‘54, who are in practice together. “They can’t believe I’m already in the lab, doing preps and restorations. They didn’t do that until at least their second or third year.”
Mayberry said that previous experiences in art classes have given him a proficiency with sculpting teeth that he didn’t expect. “The visualization, removing the clay to reveal what’s underneath, a lot of it is really comparable to what we do in the lab – it’s just that you use your hands and instruments in such slight movements.”
He was pleasantly surprised at how adept he’s become in a short time – which isn’t to say it can’t also be exasperating at times. “When you know what it’s supposed to look like, and you can envision it, but just can’t get there – that’s frustrating.”
In looking forward to the coming year, all four students said they anticipate even more intense hours of study and practice, having heard from other dental students that the first term of second year is extra challenging. Mayberry seemed to sum up the feelings of the group: “It’s definitely exciting to be moving on, going further, and learning even more. I really can’t wait.”