From Clinic Manager to Dentist

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September 24, 2018
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January 11, 2019

From Clinic Manager to Dentist

By Heather Blackmond, DMD, MPH

“…they impacted my life and changed its trajectory.”

I grew up in Texas with the dream of becoming an obstetrician so I could bring babies into the world. I graduated from college at Trinity University in San Antonio with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology intent on applying to medical school.  My aunty and uncle have lived in Hawaii since the 1970s and my grandmother always promised me a trip to Hawaii for a visit once I graduated from college.  Right after graduation in 2006, I flew out to Hawaii with the intent of spending the summer volunteering with my cousin, a physical therapist at Queen’s Medical Center, in order to gain experience and strengthen my application to medical school. 

Once I arrived in Hawaii, my cousin told me about Aloha Medical Mission as a possible volunteer opportunity.  She also mentioned that she knew the medical director at the time (Dr. Robert Koerner) and that he was looking for a Clinic Manager.  I decided to apply for the job with little expectation of being hired due to my limited work history.  After meeting with Dr. Koerner, I was offered the job and gladly accepted.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my 3-month vacation to Hawaii would end up being a 6-year journey.

When I first started with AMM, the clinic offered both medical and dental services.  Most volunteer providers came in from 4 pm to 7 pm, though we did have one dentist who came in twice a month at 1:30 pm.  While working at AMM, I began to get a feel for the day to day interactions that occur between patients and their providers.  I noticed that in many cases, dental patients would come in with severe pain, receive treatment, and leave with little to no pain.  The patients were always so grateful to be rid of their pain.  The immediate satisfaction of treating someone with a toothache really appealed to me.  I also was inspired by the way many of the dentists interacted with their patients – showing compassion, patience, and skill in alleviating their ailments.  I was specifically moved by the dedication that Dr. Ishihara had to helping his patients and appreciating his support staff.  To this day I try to live up to his example by doing all I can for my patients and showing my staff gratitude as often as possible.

I decided after the first year of working at AMM that I wanted to pursue dentistry instead of medicine.  After completing a few prerequisites and taking the entrance exam, I began applying for dental school.  I had decided early on that my dream school was the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health (ASDOH) because of its strong focus on public health.  Because of the extreme competitiveness of the application process, it took me four attempts before I was finally accepted in 2012.  Each year I applied at ASDOH, there were 3,500 applicants vying for 75 spots.  I tried not to get discouraged throughout the application process and repeated rejection letters because I really could not see myself pursuing any other career.  I also feel that things tend to happen for a reason and while I was going through the application process I was also growing as a person through my time at AMM and doing what I could to help further their mission.

In addition to completing my dental education, I also graduated with a Master in Public Health – Dental Emphasis.  I am currently working at a Federally Qualified Health Center called CentroMed in San Antonio, Texas.  At this point, I am committed to working in Texas to be close to my family, but I still have aspirations to one day return to AMM.  I gained so much from all of the volunteers and Board Members in my 5.5 years with AMM.  I hope that I had a positive effect on AMM and its patients because they impacted my life and changed its trajectory.