MAJ Kendall Mower serves as a comprehensive dentist in the U.S. Army. He is currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn and blogs about his experiences at http://armystrongstories.com/blogger/kendall-mower.
Why did you choose to become a dentist?
I can’t think of one specific event that led to my decision to be a dentist. I had just decided during High School that I was going to be a dentist and my plan never changed.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a dentist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I have enjoyed being a dentist. As a military dentist I have had the advantage of being a dentist and helping patients, while also being able to enjoy other “non-dental” career aspects.
What do you like most and least about being a dentist and interacting with patients?
I like seeing people happy. Seeing the relief on someone’s face when you finally take away the pain they have been in for days, or finally fixing something that had prevented them from wanting to smile.
Why did you choose your specialty?
I liked the “full gamut” of dentistry. At the time I was looking at post-graduate training I couldn’t see myself only doing one thing for the rest of my career. I wanted to be able to have the ability to sit down and treatment plan a case and be able to complete the whole thing myself.
Did you plan to enter your current specialty prior to dental school?
No. I began deciding my senior year of dental school what I wanted to do.
Now that you are in your specialty, has it met your expectations?
Yes. I like the ability to come into work and have such a variety of procedures to see. I have enjoyed being able to be fluid in my appointments and have the ability to shift to other procedures as the need arises without having to refer cases out.
Describe a typical day at work.
M-F 7 am – 4 pm.
What mix of clinical/research/teaching work do you do? How much power do you have to change that mix?
Currently 100% clinical. In the Army you have the opportunity to change jobs (and locations) every 3-4 years. There are opportunities to be involved in education, research, administration, or clinical dentistry each time your job/locations changes.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Yes. Believe it or not, once your initial obligation in the military is completed and you have specialized, the salary gets very close to that of civilian dentists. You can live very comfortably while enjoying the benefits that government employment can provide, i.e. retirement benefits, medical care, etc…
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I was fortunate enough to have received a military scholarship that paid all my expenses during dental school. What little I did take out in loans I was able to pay back very quickly.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep each night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work about 40 hrs /week. I sleep about 8 hours a night. I have 30 days of vacation I am eligible to use each year.
Do you have a family and do you have enough time to spend with them?
I do feel like I spend a lot of time with my family. We have the traditional family life. Sports practices and scouts during the week, games on the weekend. I find that while being a dentist I am able to balance my time evenly between all my interests.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Make sure to take every opportunity you can. Specialize early, take on jobs that are outside of your comfort zone, and work closely with more experienced dentists and other specialists to open future opportunities and to gain new skills.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were an undergraduate? (What mistakes or experiences have you encountered that you wished you had known about ahead of time so you could have avoided?)
Graduating from high school I thought I could take on the world. I took a few too many challenging classes my freshman year while also trying to be a collegiate athlete. In hindsight I would encourage other freshman to start off with a lighter class load while you find your groove in college. After you find out what things you can handle you can plan more appropriately.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
Patient ignorance and motivation towards health/dental care. So many medical and dental problems could be avoided or minimized if patients were better educated and took more interest in the health and well being of themselves and their families. Prevention is key.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in your specialty?
I feel that many dentists focus too much on the bottom line. Treatment plans can be driven more by what will make a practice more money, rather than what will promote the best oral health for the patient. Sometimes what’s best for the patient may be blurred by making production goals.
Where do you see your specialty in 5-10 years?
I see more general dentists moving towards esthetic dentistry and incorporating implants into their everyday practice.
What other types of providers and/or technicians do you work with in your day-to-day practice?
One of the benefits of a military practice is that I am able to work with a variety of specialists at each clinic I work at. Currently I work with 7 other general dentists, 1 periodontist, and 1 prosthodontist. We also have 2 in-house lab technicians to handle the majority of our prosthodontic lab needs.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any? Any international work?
I have been heavily involved in scouting the last several years. Most recently I was a Scout Master for our local Boy Scout troop.
What do you like to do for relaxation or stress relief? Can you share any advice on finding a balance between work and life?
I like to go running while my kids ride their bikes along with me. I also like camping and the ocean.
It can sometimes be hard to find balance, especially as you have a growing family. It’s easy to let your life get lopsided spending too much time at work. I have found for myself that there are times I just need to walk away and finish things later. I have to set cut-off times at work, and when that time hits I head home. It helps to keep me from getting burned out, and ensures that I spend adequate time with my family.
You are currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. What does a dentist do down range?
The answer is whatever is needed. Really it depends on what guidance is given by your boss. With each new dental unit that comes into Iraq or Afghanistan, the dentist that is the Commander will give guidance to his/her dentists on what treatment is appropriate.
Currently we have been able to offer full dental services including Oral Surgery, Prosthodontic, Periodontic, Restorative, and Endodontic care. We have made a big push to promote preventative care in an effort to get patients in the door and to address other issues they may have.
I have been blogging both my experiences while deployed as well as interesting dental cases that I have treated at http://www.armystrongstories.com/blogger/kendall-mower
As a dentist, how long are your deployments?
As an Army dentist, most of our dentists deploy for 6 months.
How do you deal with stress in a combat zone?
I was amazed with what the military has put in place to help with stress. At most bases you will have computer labs available that you can use to skype with friends and family members or just surf the internet. There are also telephone calling centers that you can use to call home regularly.
There are intramural sports (softball, basketball, flag football), classes at the gym (yoga, Tae Kwon Do, spin, P-90 X, Insanity), USO tours that bring famous sports stars, comedians, or music groups, other buildings that have pool, ping pong, tv’s and video game consoles.
Comfort food like Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway, Green Bean Coffee.
Some bases even have swimming pools and movie theaters.
What kind of staffing do you have as a dentist in a combat zone?
Depending on the location clinics will typically vary in size between one dentist up to six. Each clinic will have at least one dental assistant assigned to each dentist.
What is your recommendation to someone considering a career in the military?
The military has a lot to offer – travel, specialty training, and a group practice environment. That being said, it is not for everyone. People need to realistically look at themselves as individuals and decide whether the military environment will work for them. Having to move around, military training, physical fitness – doesn’t appeal to everyone.
I recommend speaking to someone who has been a dentist in the military, ask them what things they liked and didn’t like about it. Visit a military dental clinic and speak with dentists currently working there. Try to make an informed decision.
What was your post graduate training in?
I did a 2 year Advanced Education in General Dentistry through the Army in Hawaii. The program teaches advanced dental skills in all the dental specialties. The goal is to graduate a dentist that is competent is most of the different dental specialties that can work in a clinic that may not have easy access to other specialties.
What are the differences between a military dental practice and a civilian one?
Treatment plans aren’t based off of the ability of patients to pay for procedures, but rather the patient’s availability to come in for appointments and how long they will be located at the base.
How would someone become a military dentist?
In the military we have both Reserve and Active Duty Dentists. Military recruiters are available to help with the joining process. Dental students can receive a scholarship that pays for dental school and then come on active duty when they graduate. Dentists can join right after dental school, or after they have been in private practice.
There are financial incentives available for both the Reserve and Active duty dentists upon joining.