Dentistry: the least-bloody medical career

After a day shadowing a Rush University Medical Center vascular surgeon, biomedical science major Ben Herring ’22 could point out a few common issues with patients’ arteries and veins. Though interesting, he realized one drawback of this potential career path:

“I’m not the biggest fan of blood, and vascular surgery is 95 percent blood,” the Medinah, Ill., native said. “I liked the idea of working in a hospital, but I don’t think I’d trust myself to do surgery on a body.”

A few days later, he intently watched activity in a dentist’s office. Bright, clean and orderly, it was a place he enjoyed as a child. He watched dentists and hygienists clean teeth using a familiar array of picks and brushes. Between patients, he peppered staff with questions to learn about instruments and procedures. By the end, he thought this could be a viable medical option.

“It was cool being on the other side,” he said. “When you’re there, you trust they’re doing everything right. I got to see what they did and understand why.” 

Herring’s explorations revealed the routines of medical professionals. Though his interests leaned toward biology and medicine since high school, these were his first hands-on experiences in the dental field. In two days, Herring learned about the tools used and saw duties he had never imagined as a patient. 

Documentation and coding required clear communication among staff and detailed systems of charts. The business side included bookkeeping and insurance paperwork. Plus, there was interesting technology like a 3-D printer used to make teeth.

Most important was the variety of medical practitioners in each office. Nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and hygienists supported surgeons and dentists and ensured patients received proper care. Seeing the value of these other professionals encouraged Herring as he thought about his future.

“I’ve gained respect for so many people whose roles I didn’t understand before,” he said. “I found different options in the medical world I didn’t realize could fit me. Now I need to decide whether I want the life and responsibilities of a doctor or if I want to stay in a supporting role.”

Herring hadn’t planned to gain career training three semesters into his Bradley Experience. Watching operations made the student eager to get back to dentistry as he braces for a long educational path regardless of the route he chooses. 

“Shadowing set a fire in me. I want to be in there doing something, even if I’m just grabbing instruments,” he said. “I’ve gained peace of mind with my path going forward.”

— Matt Hawkins