DentalDentist Q&A

20 Questions: Jessica A. Rickert, DDS

Jessica A. Rickert, DDS, is a general dentist with the Michigan Community Dental Clinics in Northern Michigan. She attended University of Michigan School of Dentistry, earning her doctor of dental surgery in 1975. She was a general dentist in private practice with Dr. Bruce Rosenblum in Allen Park, Michigan, from 1975 to 1980, and director of the dental clinic for the Children’s Aid Society in Grand River from 1975 to 1982. From 1980 to 1982, Dr. Rickert was a general dentistry associate in the private practice of Dr. James B. Phillips in Birmingham, Michigan. Dr. Rickert opened her own private practice in 1982, serving the Interlochen, Michigan, area from 1982 to 2012. She was also a contract dentist with National Health Resources, Inc. providing general dental services to the Department of Corrections for the State of Michigan from 2007 to 2010. Dr. Rickert is a member of the American Dental Association, Michigan Dental Association, Academy of General Dentistry, Society of American Indian Dentists, American Association of Women Dentists, and National Association of Women Professionals. She has served on the Board of Directors for both the Michigan Urban Indian Health Council and Society of American Indian Dentists. She was the Chair of the Oakland County Dental Society’s Speakers’ Bureau, a member of the Michigan Dental Association’s Public Relations Committee, and president of the Resort District Dental Society. Dr. Rickert has been published in the Journal of the Michigan Dental Association, Association of American Indian Physicians Journal, American Association of Women Dentists Journal, Dentistry Today Journal, and University of Michigan Dental School Alumni Magazine. In 2009, Dr. Rickert was inducted in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for being the first female American Indian Dentist in the world.
When did you first decide to become a dentist? Why?
The public schools in Michigan are excellent. I attended Class B Public schools in Kentwood and Wyoming, Michigan, and a 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. Yonkee, noticed my aptitude for science. She encouraged me to explore more than was in the lessons. Our family also had an excellent pediatrician, Dr. Veltman, who encouraged me to consider a career in medicine. My family has always had a spirit of giving back to our community; they were my encouragement and security in life’s challenges. In the 6th grade, I decided to become a professional, because this would be the best way to help others. There were no professionals in my immediate family, so I voraciously used the school and public libraries to read about successful professionals. Dentistry was not specifically considered. But, because I wanted to become a professional, the college track was the only course I considered, and I realized I had to excel. I went to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, because my high school counselors told me this was the best option to be accepted into a professional school. At the University, I informally visited the law school, the medical school, and the pharmacy school. Law was not a good fit for my personality and aptitude. My organic chemistry professor suggested I also visit the dental schools. I simply entered through the front door and walked through the clinical floors, looked at a map of the building and sought out the student areas. The moment I walked into the pre-clinical lab, I was fascinated by what was going on, the subject matter itself, the processes, and the intensity of the students. The students enthusiastically demonstrated what they were doing and chatted non-stop about the school. My final though as I left was, “I can do this! I would be really good at this, and I could help a lot of people!”
How/why did you choose the dental school you attended?
I began the more formal process of applying to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. My undergraduate counselor made an appointment with the admissions counselor at University of Michigan School of Dentistry. When he looked over my transcript, he was glad that I had been on the pre-medical track, because I had all the needed pre-requisites. He encouraged me to apply, and walked me through the process. I am grateful to the University, because I had no professionals in my immediate family to advise me. So, I chose University of Michigan School of Dentistry, because I was there, on campus, and the staff was helpful.
What surprised you the most about your dental school studies?
Although I expected the subject matter to be difficult, the amount was overwhelming, at first. All the pre-requisites are so necessary, but the School of Dentistry courses were more difficult than anything I had taken in my undergraduate studies. Also, the students were truly the top of the top. As we students talked, it became more and more obvious that we would hold the very health of our patients in our hands, a huge responsibility which I did not realize would be so weighty. This thought kept popping into my head: “If I don’t master this, I might, maybe, hurt someone.”
What, if any, obstacles did you encounter during pursuit of your dental degree?
There were extremely few women or minority professional students. I do not remember a single woman professor. Although a few professors, staff and fellow students were kind, most were not. We often encountered prejudice, bias and even cruelty. We few women did form a close group and encouraged each other. I will always be grateful to the women students, African-American students, Jewish students and some Caucasian men who were helpful.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a dentist?
Yes. I am proud to be a dentist. It is truly an honorable profession. I have had the good fortune to have a wonderful husband and three marvelous children. I was a better mother because I was a dentist. I believe that being a medical doctor would have made it harder for me to balance my family and career.
Has being a dentist met your expectations? Explain.
The Rosen Publishing Group out of New York published my book, Exploring Careers in Dentistry, and this book was distributed nationally to schools and libraries. Tribal newspapers published my dental advice columns, and I am the health consultant for the Native News Network. I am honored to have been granted the American Dental Association’s Access Award and the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inducted me into its prestigious ranks because I am the first American Indian female dentist. It has been fun to do media appearances on television, documentaries, radio, magazines and newspapers. Currently, I am a speaker, encouraging students to consider the health fields and speaking on diversity inclusion. I love doing this.
What do you like most about being a dentist?
Dentistry has allowed me to help so many patients in the most positive ways to change lives. The other people in the dental community are of the highest caliber, dedicated professionals with high ethics and integrity. This includes assistants, hygienists, front desk, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, School of Dentistry staff, specialists and other dentists. Every day I am impressed with those who sit eight inches from me for eight-plus hours. I am also so glad that I have to learn new concepts and techniques all the time.
What do you like least about being a dentist?
We dentists can’t eat garlic for lunch! Seriously, I am surprised by the hardship on the human body that dentistry demands. It is not like sitting at a desk. The strain on eyes, hands, shoulders and back is tremendous.
What was it like finding a job in your field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
There are always jobs for dentists. Many join the military or public health services to pay back student loans. I entered private practice immediately, so I was self-employed. Back in the 1980s, with sealants, fluorides and other preventive measures readily available to everyone, there had been talk of the need for dentists to decrease. This has not been the case. The need for dentistry seems to increase, and there are many job opportunities in the entire world for American-trained dentists. I have provided dental care in my private practice and in clinical settings as a contract dentist. Each has its place, and I have enjoyed both situations. For me, an experience in nursing homes was too ergonomically challenging.
Describe a typical day at work–walk me through a day in your shoes.
We treat patients from two years old to 102 years old, about 20 to 25 per day. The dental team I work with is superb, and I thank them for their diligence.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many weeks of vacation do you take? How many hours of sleep do you get per night?
When my children were young, I worked 20 hours a week. When they were older, about 32 to 36 hours per week. I take four or five weeks of vacation, plus long weekends for personal obligations. I sleep seven to eight hours per night.
Are you satisfied with your income? Explain.
My husband’s hard work and my dental income have given us enough financial security to have a wonderful home, many opportunities and the time and ability to help our community. My husband and I determined that we had to provide a college education for our three children, and we were able to do so. The blessings in my life have been bountiful, and I am grateful every day.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
Yes a big strain. The undergraduate scholarships were quite plentiful, and I am truly thankful for that. When I was accepted to dental school, I began researching scholarships and found there are hardly any. Maybe this has changed, now. Of course many of us students began to take out student loans, because it is impossible to work at a job during the school year. I did work summers and holidays, even two jobs. I was surprised at the very high cost of a dental education. Upon graduating from dental school, one has to move, establish a new household, get a car, buy decent clothes, etc., to even be able to start a new job. All this takes money. I did pay back every penny of my student loans out of my own earnings, so it is possible. Honestly, I was often discouraged by this.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your dental career?
Don’t bother getting a professional manicure.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your dental studies?
Some dental problems cannot be solved.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in dental health care today?
Patients do not realize how important dentistry is to their general well-being. Dentistry is not a priority to the general population.
Where do you see dentistry in five to 10 years?
I am saddened that private practice will not be prevalent.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Through the American Dental Association and Michigan Dental Association, I offer one-day dental clinics for the community. We also have “Dentists with a Heart,” whereby disadvantaged patients come to our private office for care for a specified date; I have participated in that for many years. I give oral hygiene supplies to many schools and charitable organizations.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
Yes. Although difficult at times, I made the conscious decision to work 20 hours per week when our children were young, and I was able to be with them. When unforeseen circumstances required it, I was able to re-arrange my schedule, so that I could be there for my own children and husband, my husband’s family and for my own family. This has been very important to me. I have been able to pursue other interests, such as music, sports, travel, gardening, cooking and much more. Of course, winning the lottery would have enabled me to have more “fun,” but I have enjoyed many pursuits as well as my family and my profession. Dentistry has enabled me to do this.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing dentistry as a career?
The rewards are plentiful as you fulfill the great responsibility to your patients. Do not hesitate to call upon your dental school staff, other dentists and specialists to advise you in difficult situations.

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    john smith
  • June 9, 2013
Awesome! Please interview more dentists, specifically academics and oral surgeons. She recognizes the increasing prevalence of dental chains filling the niche/void that many dentists have failed to fill. This will ultimately be the profession's downfall towards corporate dentistry and mid-level care. The future of dentistry is directly beyond the control of dentists and instead shaped by scientific, technological, political, and economic factors. However, the future can be indirectly shaped by organized dentistry's efforts to monitor population-to-dentist ratios for appropriately adjusting class sizes according to supply-and-demand and justifying the existence of dental schools with high-impact research and public service. Why is the dearth of research capacity still tolerated within dental schools with the existence of newly opened schools which solely seek to instruct dentists and effectively become DDS-mills? It is not sufficient to be beneficial for the public's health; we must also be perceived as useful and worthwhile in the eyes of the public. ADA really needs to amp up their PR.
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    john smith
  • June 10, 2013
This is a learned profession; let us not denigrate back to the 19th century by ignoring the pursuit of research and effectively shorten dental school into a technical or vocational institution.
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    DMD
  • June 10, 2013
What is she talking about, private practice won't be around in 10 years? Private practice dentistry is alive and well. The chains are the best thing that have ever happened to my practice. Patients go there and then come back to me no questions asked for life. She's been brainwashed by community health / academics.
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    Emily
  • June 15, 2013
I have friends interested in Dentistry, but I have never been interested myself. However, I really enjoyed this article. She seems like a very kind and truly down to earth woman. Someone that you could approach for advice and she would take time out of her busy schedule to do so. I wish there were more professionals like her!
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    rose
  • June 19, 2013
Being encouraged by the comments of Emily.
I am an international periodontist with a masters & Phd.All from accredited institutions.Fellow of International Medical science
I am looking for faculty positions in USA since I have not taken NDBE so far.
Any suggestions are welcome !

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