The SSPP Experience Spotlight: James Chen

Spring 2016

By James Chen

I have a friend from Williams Lake who always tells me how beautiful and fun the city is. I often found myself drooling over imagined beautiful hikes that take your breath away and gorgeous lakes to dive in under the summer sun. So, I set out on my search for a summer practitioner program placement in Williams Lake to experience what it’s like to live there and practise in a rural community.

After talking to Dr. Sweet (then director of Students at UBC Dentistry) and a few students from the DMD upper year, I thought Dr. Gerry Dyck’s practice seemed almost a perfect fit. There was a catch, however: the dental office only treats pediatric patients, hence its name “KidsOnly.” I had heard the screams from the other side of the UBC clinic where fourth-year students do their pediatric rotation, which made me nervous about treating children. But, after much debate with myself, I decided to take on the challenge.

I arrived at the clinic in Williams Lake with my then-pregnant wife on a Thursday evening in July. The clinic was once a church and has a basement that is fully equipped with a kitchen and a bedroom; this was to be our home for the next three weeks.

James Chen and Dr. Gerry Dyck.

The next morning, after an early hour-and-a-half drive to Quesnel Hospital, I got to do amazing full-mouth dentistry on kids who are under general anaesthetic. Yes, I was thrown in the deep end. The doctor on call at the time even taught me how to do intubations for the kids. I also did many stainless steel crowns, pulpotomy, extractions and multiple fillings, with one-on-one instruction from Dr. Dyck, and two dental assistants helping me. I was beyond spoiled.

I spent the next three weeks working in the KidsOnly clinic, which was just as wonderful. Dr. Adrienne Robb, a recent grad from UBC Dentistry, is the associate dentist. She is an excellent teacher, who not only taught me how to approach different procedures, but also how to interact with patients and their parents. Dr. Dyck, who is semi-retired now and lives in Penticton, drove up and stayed at a hotel for the whole second week, with the sole purpose of teaching me. The staff of the clinic treated me like a member of their family the second I arrived. I felt like I belonged there before I could even remember everyone’s name.

My clinical skills, though, weren’t as wonderful to begin with. Getting used to different equipment and to the much-shorter time slot for each patient than I was used to at the UBC clinic was quite a challenge for me. But the clinic eased me into patient care with simpler cases to start.

During the first half of my time there, my restoration work was not very good. One day, Dr. Dyck carved a few dentoform teeth and asked me to fill them with amalgam if I had time. I spent a few hours that night in the clinic practising amalgam fillings over and over again. In my mind, I kept thinking, “KidsOnly clinic must be regretting hiring me for the summer.” For some reason, after that night, all my amalgam fillings and other clinical skills improved dramatically. I remember very clearly that, when I asked Dr. Dyck to check my work on one of the fillings, a huge, satisfied smile appeared on his face.

The truth is, the clinic doesn’t earn any money from hiring me. But for them, seeing us dental students grow and gain experience is what really matters. The clinic never regretted hiring me. To the contrary, they even offered me an opportunity to work with them after I graduate.

My experiences up in Williams Lake were absolutely amazing. I now feel very confident treating kids of all ages. And, truly, the hikes were easily accessible and had gorgeous views.

I am not sure where my dentistry career will take me in the future, but I am sure I will take this experience with me wherever I end up and will pay it forward.

Bring Another to Practice

Dentist mentors are needed for the Summer Student Practitioner Program. The success of the program has an ironic twist: each time an SSPP mentor recruits their summer student practitioner as an associate, a potential mentor for the subsequent summer is lost. And generally, there are more dental students interested in the SSPP than available mentors. So the program always needs to recruit new SSPP mentors. Bringing a student into your practice during summer is a simple process; a few clicks is all it takes to get started. For more information about the Summer Student Practitioner Program and to facilitate student matches, visit