DentalDentist Q&A

20 Questions: Andrew Read-Fuller, DDS, MS, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Dr. Andrew Read-Fuller is a dentist and resident with the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital/UT Southwestern Medical Center, with a focus on the broad scope of oral and maxillofacial surgery, including dentoalveolar, orthognathic, cleft and craniofacial, and cosmetic surgery, as well as facial trauma and head and neck cancer. Read-Fuller received his bachelor’s degree in politics from Princeton University (2005), and, most recently, he is a graduate of the UCLA School of Dentistry, where he received his doctor of dental surgery (DDS) magna cum laude (2011) and his master’s degree in oral biology (2011). He is currently active in the Resident Organization of the American Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons.
Dr. Read-Fuller was active with the American Student Dental Association during his time at UCLA, serving as vice president, executive committee member and president of the UCLA chapter. He has earned numerous honors and awards, including the Dr. William S. Kramer Award of Excellence –Omicron Kappa Upsilon (2010), Pierre Fauchard Academy Scholarship (2010), California Dental Association Foundation Scholarship (2010), Webb Family Scholarship –Outstanding Leadership (2009 – 2011), UCLA Affiliates Academic & Leadership Scholarship (2008 – 2010), and ADA Foundation Academic Scholarship (2008).
When did you first decide to become a dentist? Why?
I first became interested in dentistry while working for my childhood pediatric dentist the summer after I started college. Although I didn’t initially think that I would be interested in dentistry as a profession, I became aware that my dentist really loved working with children, enjoyed dentistry, and made strong connections with his patients and their families as he watched the young patients grow up. All of this had a great impact on me. I came back to work for him my second summer in college, and by the end of the summer I was hooked and decided that dentistry was the right profession for me.
How/why did you choose the dental school you attended?
When I applied to dental schools, I knew that I wanted top-notch clinical training but also an excellent academic experience that would prepare me well for postgraduate training and make me a competitive applicant for residencies. UCLA fit both of these criteria perfectly, and I knew right after the interview that it was the right school for me.
What surprised you the most about dental school?
It is difficult to understand exactly how challenging dental school is until you get there. To succeed and excel in dental school, a student has to have a strong work ethic and willingness to study hard, excellent hand skills, and the ability to build good relationships with patients. The learning curve is incredibly steep.
Why did you choose to specialize in oral surgery?
When I was exposed to oral and maxillofacial surgery as a dental student, I realized very quickly that it was the right specialty for me. It combines dentistry, anesthesia, and surgery, and has a huge scope for a specialty, which provides many options for the practicing oral and maxillofacial surgery. Often times, oral and maxillofacial surgery patients present with challenging problems that need to be solved right away, and I have always enjoyed confronting those challenges.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still specialize? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
There is no question that I would still go into oral and maxillofacial surgery given the choice again. It has been incredibly difficult so far, but I have also learned a great deal in a short amount of time. The fact that I enjoy coming to work every day is proof that I have chosen the right specialty for me.
Has being a specialist in your field met your expectations? Why?
Oral and maxillofacial surgery has been every bit as difficult and enjoyable as I thought it would be. The work is very challenging as I had expected, but it has also been an excellent experience learning to provide a wide variety of procedures and services to patients, and also gaining exposure to many different areas of medicine and dentistry.
What do you like most about being a specialist in your field? Explain.
Every day I show up for work is very different than the day before. I never know when I wake up in the morning what type of patient I will be seeing and what type of problem that patient will have. One day I may see a patient who presents with an unusual type of pathology, the next day it may be a complex trauma, and some days I may be primarily removing teeth. The variety is what keeps the job interesting.
What do you like least about being a specialist in your field? Explain.
The length of training and the time commitment required to become an oral and maxillofacial surgery is probably the most challenging aspect of entering the field. It becomes especially difficult by the end of the second or third year of residency when you see your friends finishing their residencies in orthodontics or pediatric dentistry and you still have another three to four years left to finish. However, there is no question that in the end, the hard work will pay off, and I don’t think I will ever regret going into oral and maxillofacial surgery.
Describe a typical day at work—walk readers through a day in your shoes.
I usually wake up about 5 a.m. and get to work by 6 a.m. We round on our inpatients and then prepare for the day in the operating room and clinic. At this stage in my training, I may spend most of my day in the clinic or assist the chief resident in the operating room. In the evening we check on patients again and then head home around 6 p.m. If I am on call, I will be seeing consult patients and patients in the emergency room throughout the evening and will spend the night in the hospital, and start all over again the next morning.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work between 90 and 110 hours per week on average. When I am not on call, I will get about six hours of sleep. The vacation time is not too bad, typically three to four weeks each year.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I do not have a family yet, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for my co-residents who are married with kids and manage to spend quality time with their families.
How do you balance work and life outside of work?
It is incredibly difficult to achieve a good work-life balance in oral and maxillofacial surgery, because free time is so limited. It is essential to set goals and priorities outside of work, whether it is to exercise, cook, maintain a hobby, or spend time with family and friends. If you aren’t proactive, it is very easy to spend your time off doing nothing but sitting on the couch watching TV.
Do you feel you are adequately compensated?Explain.
As a resident, I do feel that I make enough money to live comfortably. During my time in residency as a medical student, finances were definitely tighter and I had to take out additional loans since I was not earning an income. It is more difficult financially in all phases of residency for residents who have a spouse and young kids to support, however.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?Explain.
The good thing about residency from a financial standpoint is that it is possible to continue to defer loan payments during training. Thus far, my student loans have not created an additional burden for me, although I have accumulated additional loans to pay for medical school. Once I finish residency, I will be obligated to start paying it all back.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself back when you started your dental career?
If I could go back, I’d probably tell myself to relax more often and take more time to enjoy the whole process. There have been times in dental school and residency when it feels like the work load is insurmountable. I made the choice to become very involved in our professional dental organization (the American Student Dental Association), which has considerably demanded more of my time and energy. However, I have learned that everything always seems to work out with hard work and determination. It is easy to be too focused on work when the stress level is high, but it is always important to take the time to enjoy yourself and your time as a student.
What information/advice do you wish you had known prior to dental school?
It is tempting, especially early in dental school, to try to do everything. Highly motivated dental students, especially those interested in specializing, feel like they need to be involved in as many activities as possible. It is very important, however, to pick one or two activities early on that you are truly passionate about—whether it be research, community service, organized dentistry, etc.—and dedicate yourself to those things. You will be far more productive, and your experience will be far more rewarding, if you spend your time only doing those things you truly enjoy.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today? Explain.
This is a very uniquely challenging time to be entering healthcare. With the many changes occurring in the healthcare industry right now, especially with the Affordable Care Act going into effect, it is difficult to know how the dental profession will be impacted. It will be critical in upcoming years to take advantage of the opportunity to stay active and organized in order to ensure that we do everything possible to advocate for the dental profession and our patients as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve.
Where do you see your specialty in five years?
I am very optimistic that oral and maxillofacial surgery will continue to remain strong five years from now and beyond. I am excited and proud to be a part of the surgical specialty of dentistry, providing important services to our patients in the areas of dentoalveolar surgery, TMJ, and orthognathic surgery, among others. I am also looking forward to our continued growth and involvement in subspecialty areas such as head and neck oncology and craniofacial surgery. We are very fortunate in oral and maxillofacial surgery to have many areas in which we can continue to grow and develop.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Although I am not currently involved in any volunteer clinical work, I very much enjoy working in a large county hospital, where I am able to treat many patients who would otherwise have no access to dental care. Much of my personal time is devoted to organized dentistry as I maintain an active role in the Executive Committee of the Resident Organization of the American Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing your specialty as a career?
Most dedicated and committed dental students planning to apply to oral and maxillofacial surgery already realize the importance of strong academic performance, participation in externships, and involvement in research activities. However, I urge students interested in oral and maxillofacial surgery to become active in organized dentistry as well. It is critical to our specialty that we remain unified and proactive in participating in discussions in the many areas of healthcare that affect us. Participation in local and state dental societies and national organizations such as the American Student Dental Association provides an excellent background to students as they transition to residency and equips them with the skills necessary to confront the many challenges facing our specialty.

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