Q: What made you continue with dentistry once you moved to the States?
A: When I first came to America I started to work as a dental assistant, and I wondered if I should go back to dental school or if I should go into a different profession. I knew it was going to take me years to get my degree, but everyone around me told me I should continue with dentistry. It was hard and expensive, but I knew I had the skills. My dad was a military dentist in Russia. Unfortunately, he was killed when I was 16. When I was contemplating going back to school I thought of him. I thought he’d be so proud of me. He didn’t know I was going into dentistry, he never saw my work, but I hope he knows.
Q: What was your first day on the job like?
A: I remember my first patient in the States. I came into the room and introduced myself, and the patient said, ‘You look too young. How much experience do you have?’ I said, ‘I just graduated last month. If you want you can leave, but I will do my best.’ So, now he is my best friend, and he’s been with me since then. It was funny though—my first patient and he asked me that!
Q: What gets you excited about dentistry?
A: To be a dentist, you have to have some artistic skills. I love to paint at home, and I was always interested in cosmetic dentistry. I love Invisalign. I love to improve patients’ smiles, taking them from ugly, nasty teeth to smiles that look like masterpieces. If the patient is happy, then I am happy. I do everything from root canals to bridges, but I prefer aesthetic work. I love making people happy. I come home, and I am still thinking about patients. When I am dreaming, I have dreams about my procedures. Sometimes I take vacations, and by the second week I am already thinking ‘I need my drill!’
Q: What’s a negative about dentistry?
A: Sometimes the patients here, especially in the Wall Street area, are usually stressed and sometimes that affects me. Sometimes I bring that stress home. It’s hard because all those feelings from the patient transfer to you.
Q: People always dread going to the dentist. How do you put your patients at ease?
A: I took so many courses in psychology in school, so I use my psychology skills on the patient. When you see that the patient is very scared and it’s hard for him to open his mouth and sit down, you have to relax him a little. You have to make him comfortable and talk to him. I think every dentist needs to be a psychologist inside because the patient will feel much more comfortable with you. And the patient will come back and won’t run away from you.
Q: Do you want to open your own practice at some point?
A: In the beginning it is very hard to open your own practice because, first of all, you don’t have enough patients. And it is hard to manage the business and insurance claims. You may be a beautiful dentist, but the business part is a challenge. You need a lot of support: people for the front desk, financial people, among others. You have to have that backup to protect yourself when you open your own place. Of course in the back of my mind I have always wanted to open my own practice.
Q: Any advice for new post-grad dentists?
A: If you are not comfortable handling patients right after graduating, go for a one- or two-year residency. But don’t go any longer than that, you have to go out there and use your skills and really dig in. If you’re not going to try, you’re going to be scared for the rest of your life. Secondly, you have to know how to listen to patients. You have to resolve the patients’ problem and listen to what they want.