Hello Dr. Loi,
As someone interested in the HPSP, I have browsed the SDN forums for info about HPSP and I have looked at your website and your posts on SDN. I am wondering what the Army dentist life is like, and also if you have any advice for me as I am about to start the HPSP application process this June.
I have received a lot of questions about what a normal Army day is like. First off, I have to remind everyone that while I have been serving on active duty, I have not been deployed. From 2013-2014 the Army reduced its numbers. This means that when I came on active duty there was a lot less work to do and few deployment opportunities. While I have been on active duty, deployments have been strictly voluntary. Generally, soldiers/officers volunteer for a few reasons:
To look good on their residency application
To get away from a bad situation (duty station, direct supervisor, commander etc)
To get promoted
The experience - the adventurous personality type
Tax free income
If no one volunteers then a name is picked off a list, with the most senior officers (that have not deployed) at the top. There has always been a volunteer since I have been active duty.
Typical Week as an Army Dentist
As for what a typical day is like, this is a detailed account of my typical week as an active duty Army Captain, dentist stateside.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday our unit, the soldiers that make up the dental activity (the soldiers that are all involved in making the dental clinics run) work out together in organized Physical Training (PT) for one hour in the beginning of the day. This varies from base to base depending on the commander’s preference.
- 1hr Physical Training
- 1.5 hr Personal Hygiene and Breakfast. This includes travel time
- 3 hrs at the Dental Clinic
- 1 hr Lunch
- 4 hrs at the Dental Clinic
It is dark outside when I wake up one hour before “formation,” the time everyone has to show up for accountability. In the Army you always want to be early so I make sure I am at the location at least ten minutes in advance. “Hurry up and wait.” You learn this early on in your Army career.
If there is one thing you don’t want to do in the Army, it would be to be LATE to unit formation. Your name will embarrasing called out as “unaccounted” for and people will laugh as you walk up. Depending on how militant your superior is he or she may chew you out for tardiness. You are a solider first, doctor/dentist second; the Army loves to tell you this. On these occasions you will remind yourself that the Army paid for your dental education (wink).. Your superior’s personality will dictate how militant the climate is at the base. Some officers/dentists are really into military bearing and some that just want to practice dentistry. The rule of thumb is to always be on time.
Physical training consists of light stretching, push-up and sit-up drills, followed by running or walking for the injured. We end with a cool down stretch as a group and are “dismissed.” It reminds me of organized PE in high school, only now it starts and ends in the dark morning, and I am wearing a grey ARMY shirt. The unit is trying to get ready for our annual PT test. You are tested once if not twice a year, with a height and weight. Remember you’re Army property.
After working out I get one and a half hours for personal hygiene. This includes travel time. I drive home to shower and eat breakfast. I then go to the dental clinic to work where I find out that one of the hygienists called out sick. I have to do her cleanings to “cover down.”
Do I want to do the cleanings? No. Cleanings are not fun for general dentists, but it is my duty to keep the mission going. You will find that when you are an active duty captain you have to be flexible and go with the flow. The mission comes first, and our mission is to keep the soldiers healthy for deployment.
While I am doing the hygienist's cleanings I also have to do the 16 other hygiene exams throughout the clinic. At my particular clinic I am the assigned doctor of the day to do all the hygiene exams. This is the way this particular clinic runs, the other doctors are suppose to jump in to help.
At the end of the day I notice that the other doctors have 5 cancellations this odd Monday, which added to 6.5 hours of free time, which they could have jumped in to help me. This is surprising to me, but I am the newbee in this particular clinic so I am learning the way things work here. It was also partially my fault that I did not reach out to each doctor and ask for help.
Can I be mad at the other doctors? No. You work as hard or as little as you want in the Army. You will learn that as you practice even on the outside as a civilian dentist. You have to stay true to yourself and have integrity and intention in your practice.
I go home tired from a busy day.
No PT today. I am the sick call doctor. That means I am the dentist that takes care of all the “emergency” patients. Three hours is allotted for this in the morning.
I am in the clinic for 4 hours in the morning. I leave the clinic 1 hour for lunch. I work for 4 hours at the end of the day. I see typical restorative cases. No fuss today and no hygiene! A typical day.
PT in the morning followed by treating patients. I am seeing restorative patients this morning. I have a one hour break for lunch. After lunch there is a thirty minute clinic meeting. After the clinic meeting I see restorative patients for another 3.5 hours.
Is the same as Tuesday, but I end up going to the gym at the end of the day. I am in love with the new gym they built on the base. I was spoiled with UCLA, USC, and LA gyms. When I arrived at the Oklahoma Army base I was disappointed when I saw the gyms from the 1960s. They were depressing to work out in.
Luckily at the end of my third year a multimillion dollars gym was completed that is state of the Art. I love the place. Bonus- you get a free gym membership if you join the Army. It is on the base. This one has childcare.
**This Thursday was a bit boring, but it is a typical Thursday. I will give you a bonus Thursday.
🎊 🎉🎊 *Bonus, Bonus, Bonus* Thursday: 🎊 🎉 🎊
Today is Commander’s Call. That means the whole unit, all the dental clinics (10% soldiers and 80% civilian department of defense employees) on the base meet with the Commander to go over training, objectives, and administrative things. It is basically a big pow-wow that gets us on the same page.
This was done every other month before, however the staff was getting tired of sitting in a room for 4 hours of training so today six hours is devoted to Commander’s Call. It was announced that this CC will happen quarterly now. This will change from base to base.
I see one patient in the morning then my assistant and I are off to the meeting. This was a particular interesting meeting because we had Transgender training. While I have been in the Army. The Army went from a “don’t ask don’t tell”, to an “open door policy” to accepting of gays to an accepting of transgender. During my first year I remember being excited to see a Gay Rights luncheon. I thought I was in an open-minded Army then, now I know I am in a progressive Army.
We were getting medically trained on transgender awareness, the definitions, medical profiles, and when a gender marker is changed. It opened up a discussion which was very interesting. The policy is in place, and I believe it will take some time to adapt. I truly believe that the Army is fully against transgender discrimination and there are policies in place for protection.
The training ended on this note and I found it to be a milestone in my Army days.
Yes, Army dentist have to work on Fridays. Bummer. This is not the civilian world where you would go to the chiropractor, get a message or play golf. I have unit PT in the morning followed by patients.
The plus is that pretty much every other month there is a government holiday. We get government holidays off. Currently we also get the Friday or Monday before or after the government holiday off also. This is called the “training day” where we are suppose to do training, however if all the training is complete then it is a free day. So we get 3-4 day weekends every other month.
Wash, rinse, repeat. This will most likely be what a typical Army Dentist’s day is like stateside. You may have to take time off for “special duties” in between patient chair time. For example I was chair of the Holiday Ball. Think Army Medical-Dental-Veterinarian Prom. I had to plan this event with a committee. We met every week for a month, which was factored into my “clinic” schedule.
I hope this paints a picture of what an Army dentist’s week is like. My next post will feature more specific answers and advice to the HPSP application process. Stay tuned and as always, if you have questions or comments please let me know!
Disclaimer: My posts reflect my own opinions and thoughts alone and do not reflect the policies or opinions of the Army, DoD, or US Government in any way