Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Next Chapter (As Kevin Durant Calls It)

Two weeks ago, I packed my entire life in five suitcases and moved across the country. It was hard saying goodbye to Los Angeles, my adopted home for the past 8 years. I'd grown accustomed to the busy downtown streets and mild California weather. I was even indifferent to the infamous Los Angeles traffic. But most of all, I loved the familiarity of home. 

Birds-eye view over Los Angeles
I've always had a romanticized notion of east coast living. After 8 years in Los Angeles, I knew I would regret it if I never lived in the east coast before turning 30. Harvard gave me a one-way ticket out of California for the next three years and I took it. "This is what you've always wanted," my mom reminds me. 

But nothing breeds anxiety quite like the unknown. 

Landing at Boston Logan International Airport. The first day of the next three years of my life. 
Move-in day was a blur. We fought through a maze of public transit routes in a foreign city. We picked up used Craigslist furniture around Boston in a rented Uhaul truck. Then we tried to finagle the furniture up three flights of the most rickety and narrow staircase I've ever encountered. 
This is what my first day in Boston felt like... 
I'm still getting used to the limited real estate space in Boston. I downsized my wardrobe to fit the tight closet space. My current kitchen is noticeably smaller than my walk-in closet in downtown Los Angeles. In-house washer and dryer units don't exist here. I store my pantry items on the floor of my closet and my toothbrush on my desk. 

My new bedroom in Boston.
The day after my parents flew back to California, I was taken over by a sobering revelation - I was alone in a big city. My network of friends and family was 3,000 miles across the country. Maybe I should have taken the easy route? Maybe I should have done my ortho residency back in Los Angeles?

Overlooking the Charles River from my program director's penthouse in Back Bay. 
But two weeks into my new life in Boston, there is some semblance of normalcy. My pantry is stocked with food. My bedsheets are freshly laundered. A blue peacock tapestry hangs over the exposed-brick wall in my bedroom. I have a few friends to call my own. I still don't have any clue how to survive a New England winter. Or how to distinguish the inbound trams from the outbound trams. But I'm starting to find a comfortable rhythm and place in this majestic city. I can't wait for the adventure of my life for the next three years in Boston. 

Slowly but surely, Boston is starting to feel like home.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Interview Trail Travel Diaries | Mesa, Arizona

Mesa, Arizona (October 5, 2015)

Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health Campus 
Flying to ASDOH for an interview was rather nostalgic. It was the exact trip I had made four years ago for dental school interviews. Everything was still the same, down to the blazing hot Arizona winters and the list of hotel recommendations they emailed us. I remember staying at La Quinta Inn. I remember booking a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and to ASDOH (Ubers didn't exist back then). Thinking back, my dental school interview at ASDOH was the first time I traveled to another state by myself. Four years and 509723 ASDA trips later, it's funny to see how much I've grown as a person. Traveling alone to Arizona? That's nothing! Try flying to Chicago or Atlanta by yourself.

LAX | brand new terminals at Southwest Gate 1 
I flew from Los Angeles to Phoenix on Sunday via Southwest. While roaming around the terminals, I was pleasantly surprised to see that LAX is finally coming out of the stone ages. As you can see in the pictures above, they updated some of the Southwest gates at Terminal 1. Now the seats boast sleek modern designs, individual charging stations and cupholders.

I didn't get to explore Arizona the last time I was there for an interview. I didn't have any friends in Arizona to show me around. My last trip to Arizona was a rather lonely experience. I remember walking around in the barren desert streets in search of dinner. There was a paltry selection of restaurants within a walking radius. I ended up awkwardly sitting at P.F. Chang's, eating dinner by myself (this is probably why I've never eaten at P.F. Chang's again. Such bad memories). This time around, I had some friends to hang out with in Arizona thanks to the cross-country friendships I've formed through ASDA. We ate at Postino, a very chic wine bar in a hipster area of Phoenix. Who knew there were hipster pockets in Arizona?

Postino | A delicious assortment of flatbread
I mean, let's be honest here. Californians don't believe civilization exists outside of California. But the truth is, there is so much going for Arizona that most people don't know about. For one - affordable housing. I'd kill to live in my own apartment for $700 a month instead of paying $1800 for a closet space in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, there's a decent nightlife in Scottsdale (or Tempe, if you're into the undergrad party scene). Arizona also boasts fabulous winter weather (as long as you're willing to put up with their blazing hot summers). Of the ortho programs I interviewed at, ASDOH (by far) has the most gorgeous state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

Can I also add that AirBnB is the best thing that ever happened to students on a budget going to 304509 cities for interviews? I started using AirBnB when I flew to Boston for my first interview. If you've never been to Boston before, apparently hotels don't exist for less than $300 per night. As much as I wanted to get into orthodontics residency, I wasn't prepared to drop $600+ for hotels in one city. So I booked a room on AirBnB for $74 per night. It wasn't great. It was a dinky house with six bedrooms on one floor and one bathroom for the entire floor. Which meant that shower time and makeup time was severely rationed. I actually started doing my makeup in my bedroom using my iPhone as a "mirror". But for someone who saved over $200 per night on housing, I can't complain TOO much. In Arizona, I paid half of what I paid in Boston for housing and got my own bedroom and bathroom. Definitely recommend looking at AirBnB for housing!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Interview Trail Travel Diaries | Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts (September 23-24, 2015)
I received my first interview offer from Harvard School of Dental Medicine at the beginning of September. Like any normal person, I saw the email and froze. Harvard? Me? You're joking! My first thought was "I'm sure they emailed the wrong Stephanie... They were probably looking for Stephanie Ling or something..." I was positive a consolation email would appear in my mailbox telling me they typed the wrong email address into the recipient box.

The consolation email never came. I guess they really wanted to invite me for an interview! Who would have thought? Naturally, my Asian parents were more excited about the interview offer than I was. My mom was pretty adamant - "It's Hahh-vardYou're not allowed to turn down Harvard if you get in!".

February 2015 | In the middle of the Boston Snowmaggedon
I took an early Tuesday morning flight to Boston via JetBlue. Let me just say this - JetBlue is my new FAVORITE airline. You can't beat their spacious seats and leg room, personal direcTV, free onboard WiFi, awesome snacks, and bottled water. Free onboard WiFi and 6 hours of Law & Order SVU made the cross-country flight a breeze.

The last time I set foot in Boston, I landed in the middle of an epic "Snowmageddon". Record snowfall was dumped on the city. Mountains of snow lined the city streets. The entire city of Boston was on shutdown. As I tried to get from airport to hotel, I realized that there was only one Uber driver serving the entire city. Despite all of this, I still came back.

This time, the weather in Boston didn't disappoint. There was a cool crisp breeze signaling the start of fall. It was a nice change from the 90 degree southern California "fall weather". And it wasn't the 50mph winds that you normally get in Chicago that makes 65 degrees feel quite frigid.

My first order of business in Boston - making a pit stop in Harvard Square to buy souvenirs for my family. My family specifically requested Harvard sweaters for my brother and my cousin. I guess the prevailing thought is that if they wear the sweater long enough, they might actually go to Harvard one day. A few applicants and I debated buying Harvard paraphernalia as souvenirs. We ultimately decided not to. It seemed just a little too presumptuous.

Cambridge, MA | touring Harvard Yard with the other ortho interviewees
If you've never been to Harvard School of Dental Medicine, you might be surprised to learn that it's not located on the undergrad campus in Cambridge. It's actually nestled in the Longwood Medical Area, a span of road that encompasses Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was an honor walking by such prestigious and highly regarded institutions. To be amongst the most compassionate healthcare providers and the greatest minds in the country.

I won't discuss the actual interview process at Harvard or comment on the merits or shortcomings of the program. That's not really the point of this blog post. That's also not something I feel comfortable sharing in a public forum. But what I will say is this: orthodontics is a very competitive specialty. It's overwhelming and awe-inspiring to be in the presence of such accomplished individuals.

The wonderful thing about ortho interviews is that you tend to see a lot of the same people at your subsequent interviews. A handful of applicants at the Harvard interview ended up going to the same three interviews as me. As we traveled from one interview to the next on a red-eye cross-country flight, we formed a tight friendship from our shared experience and struggles. I'd have to say this was the highlight of my interview trail. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflecting on Dental Licensure

This past Monday, I took the Comprehensive Treatment Planning (CTP) portion of the WREB exam. For those of you unfamiliar with dental licensure, here's a brief rundown: in order to legally practice dentistry in the United States, you need (1) a degree from an accredited institution, (2) pass the written National Board Dental Examination part I & II, and (3) pass a live-patient clinical exam. Licensure is regulated by state dental boards and aims to protect the public. To learn more about licensure, visit ASDA's website here and here.

What I REALLY want to discuss is licensure from a dental student's perspective. There are many ethical issues surrounding these clinical exams. As someone who has been heavily involved in the American Student Dental Association for the past 3 years, I've been at the forefront of the licensure battle. I've seen our organization toil endlessly to make a change in the state of dental licensure and to spread awareness to members. It pains me to see the complacency that dental students have about live-patient exams. These exams are simply treated as the "status quo" at our school. Nobody is demanding change.

Here are some of the current issues with live-patient licensure exams:
  • There is no universal licensure exam: Is it bizarre that I can become a licensed dentist in one state but I'm not allowed to practice in another state? There are five regional testing agencies that run these board exams and there isn't a single exam that confers universal licensure to practice in all 50 states. Most dental students in California take the WREB exam, which allows you to practice in California as well as a number of other states. Yet even if I pass WREBs, I won't be allowed to practice in Hawaii, or New York, or Florida. In order to practice in Massachusetts (where I will be going for residency next year), I still have to take the NERB diagnostic skill examination. 
  • Because there is no universal licensure exam, sometimes students have to take live-patient exams that are not offered at their dental school. Live-patient clinical exams are hard enough at your home school. You get the benefit of familiarity and ease of recruiting patients. Can you imagine finding the right patient and adjusting to the clinic layout and intricacies at another dental school? Perhaps even in another state? I've heard stories about dental students having to fly their patient and assistant to another state just to take a different live-patient licensing exam. For all of my dental school classmates who want to practice in states that don't accept the WREB exam (i.e. Hawaii), this is a very real nightmare. 
  • If you don't see an ethical dilemma yet, here's one: paying patients to be patients for licensure examinations. It's no secret that most dental students pay patients a hefty sum to be present for the exams. When we're already shelling out thousands of dollars to take the licensure exam, what's another hundred to ensure patient compliance and attendance? Although I've never actually witnessed it, there are rumors that some candidates try to "steal" patients by offering them more money. When I assisted WREBs as a first year dental student, I was specifically instructed to walk the patient from the parking lot to the exam floor and not let anybody come near the patient (can't risk someone else offering the patient more cash on exam day). 
  • Aside from the monetary issues, patients are also seen as "lesions" and not as patients during live-patient exams. During dental school, we're trained in comprehensive care. We are taught to create the ideal treatment plan and to deliver a full range of treatment from cleanings to CAMBRA to crowns in a proper sequence. For the purpose of live-patient exams, all of this goes out the window. All of a sudden, patients become a "DO lesion past the DEJ" or "7 clicks of calculus". Patients are traded around like cards in a deck. "I'll give you this Class III if you find me a quad". 
  • Not to mention, a one day live-patient exam is not an accurate representation of your skill as a dentist. Everyone can have a bad day. Everyone can also have a no-show patient. Guess what? If your patient doesn't show up for the exam, you automatically fail. I had one faculty joke that the exam was more about luck than actual skill. Will your patient show up on time that day? Will your patient's case get accepted by the examiners? Will your equipment work properly that day? 
  • Lastly, no other medical profession utilizes live-patient exams to grant licensure. Can you imagine a neurosurgeon having to find patients to undergo a one-day live-patient licensure exam? 
What are your thoughts on live-patient examinations for dental licensure? 

Monday, November 9, 2015

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