Your path to becoming a dentist does not have to be linear. In fact Dental Schools and dentists encourage you to shadow dentistry to see if the profession is right for you. Dentistry is a field where you have to use your problem solving skills daily while managing staff as well as scared patients.
I choose to highlight my mentor, Dr. Cheryl Goldasich and her unique path to dentistry. Dentists like Dr Cheryl Goldasich. help make USC Dental School a wonderful place to learn and practice dentistry. I hope you gain as much wisdom from Dr. Goldasich as I have throughout my mentorship and our friendship.
Q: Why did you want to go into dentistry?
A: I started out in the dental office in 1974 working for my father, a general dentist, when I was 14 years old as a part time, after school job. It was meant to teach me responsibility and allow me to earn a whomping $5.00 an hour. At that time dentistry was simply a way for me to pay for my horse activities. I was very involved with horses and showing and dentistry wasn't on my radar as a career choice at that time.
Q: Why did you choose to open up your own practice?
A: I chose to become a dentist after assisting for my father for 17 years and seeing excellent dentistry. As I started to work for my father's associates I could easily tell the difference between his work and theirs. I knew I was in trouble when I could spot something that a dentist missed or when I knew that another dentist had done substandard dentistry on one of my father's patients. If I hadn't gone back to school to become a dentist I wouldn't have been able to survive in dentistry because I would have judged the work of a dentist I was assisting for and been fired.
Q: Did you always want to open up your own practice?
A: I opened up my own practice after two years of working for other dentists because I had ethical issues in other offices and I wanted to to things the way my dad did them, which was exactly the same as what I was taught at USC School of Dentistry. The decision to open my own practice was an easy one because I wanted to have control over the quality of service patients of mine received and that was the only way.
Q: Was it hard being a women, having a family and having your own practice?
A: Being a mother, a woman and a business owner is somewhat difficult and if I were a single parent I wouldn't have done it. The fact that my husband is my partner and accountant in the business makes it possible for me to focus on the dentistry and not the bills.
Q: What are challenges you find in dentistry?
A: Dentistry is facing many challenges today. Dental insurance covers the same monetary amount they did thirty years ago, between $1000 and $2000 per year. Unfortunately, dental treatment has gone up in price as has everything else in this economy. I would like to see dental insurance change with the changing times so that it is actually a benefit to people. Also, new dentists are facing challenges in dentistry that I don't have to face. They are now finding that employers are looking to hire dentists who can do third molar extractions, molar root canals, flap surgeries and so on. This puts more pressure on new dentists to do things that may be beyond their scope of training. With student debt being so high today I think it encourages aggressive diagnosing in order to keep a job or get paid enough to live and repay student loans.
Q: What advice do you give to young dentist?
A: My number one piece of advice is this; If you are hired by an office and you find that they recommend doing things in a way that you find is unethical or in any other way below the standard of care ( or flies in the face of what we taught you at USC) then that office is probably not a good fit for you and you should leave.
Q: What advice do you give to young pre-dentals? Young Women?
A: Predental students should apply to schools that have lower tuition in addition to the top private schools. As much as I love USC, they are the most expensive dental school in the country and that needs to be considered in today's economy. If you are going to apply to dental school today, shadow more than one dentist and maybe a specialist or two so that you have a really good idea what you are getting into.
Young women are the future of dentistry. I believe that a woman can raise a family and support that family as a dentist and dentistry is a really good career for young women today. My advice is "go for it!"
Q: When you went to school what the ratio of male to female?
A: When I attended USC in the mid-late nineties the ratio of male to female was 65/35. I understand that, today the ratio is 50/50. At some point I would expect to see more females in dentistry than males. Dentistry and most health care related fields seem to favor women. Women are very good at delivering care to others and the majority of people selecting health care providers for their families are women.
Q: In the beginning of my job search in civilian dentistry I was wondering if men and women get equal pay in dentistry. What was your experience? What are your thoughts?
A: Men and women get paid the same in dentistry today. Dentists get either a salary with or without a percentage. After a certain production amount is achieved, the dentist is compensated purely on percentage. Salaries don’t seem to be affected by gender.
Q: Correct me if I am wrong. Were you age 31 when you entered dental school? You said you worked for your dad at age 14, so I did the math. 17 years of assisting.. that means you entered dental school at age 31? I have heard that you did not have a linear path into dental school. I really like that about you. Did you have to go back to school to take science classes in order to get into dental school? Where did you go for your undergraduate degree? I remember you said that you had a "special acceptance."
A: I was 32 when I started undergrad and 36 when I entered USC in 1995. I graduated at the ripe old age of 40. I was the second oldest dental student in my class. I had no undergrad degree. My major was "predent". My main school for undergrad was Harbor College in Wilmington, Ca. I was accepted to USC based on my GPA, my DAT test scores and my father's aquatinence of the then dean of the dental school, Dr. Howard Landesman. When my dad and I met in Dr. Landesman's office prior to my acceptance he asked me if I had any questions for him. Since my DAT test was still "pending" I asked him "what DAT test score are you looking for, doctor?" His answer was unforgettable; he said "Cheryl, I'm not going to tell you. The fact is, if we like you, you're IN, regardless of the DAT test and, if we don't like you, you're OUT, regardless of the DAT. That being said, welcome to USC!" He then reached out his hand and shook mine. It was to this day the best day of my life.
Post Interview Reflections:
After seeing Dr. Goldasich’s response about dentistry today changing because of current dental insurance benefits having a maximum pay out of $1000-2000, the same as from 1970s. I was shocked.
After I left the military I job searched around and I choose specifically not to work for corporate dentistry. I wanted to try private practice to use my skills in CAD/CAM Dentistry to help my patients get one day crown deliveries in the civilian world. I found that it was difficult to find dental practices that had the digital dentistry technology, but they were around I just had to be patient in finding the offices.
I learned a lot more about dental insurances, something that I never had to deal with in my time in the military. After educating myself I believe that it is in the interest of the public to know that their dental insurance is only a coupon for benefits. A sort of coupon that covers exams, cleanings and x-rays only. There is a small discount on dental treatment, but the 1K maximum pay out does not go far, and the rest is up to the patient to pay. I really like this video that Dr. Mangrum from the Petaluma Dental Group has made to educate her patients. I specifically choose to work in dental offices that put the patient’s oral healthcare first in dictating treatment rather than revolving around insurance plans.
I gravitated as a dental student to Dr. Goldasich and have kept in contact with her throughout my career in the military. I was impressed with her attention to the moral code of a dentist that reflects in her patient care and well managed office. Dr. Goldasich practices in Torrance, Ca and volunteers one day a week at USC Dentistry to help mentor young dental students in their clinical abilities.
I hope you all can find a great mentor like Dr. Goldasich.