Residency at Columbia University in the City of New York – The Residency That Never Sleeps

Written by Dr. Steven K. Kim

Oh, what a time to be alive! Around this time of year is when dentists all over the U.S. who’ve chosen to take the next step toward their careers are graduating and officially becoming endodontists. I am sure my graduation will become one of the most memorable moments in my life, as it marks the end of my 22nd grade, as well as the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

My name is Steven Kim and I’m a soon-to-be graduate from the Columbia University Endodontics Residency program. I am also a member of the Foundation for Endodontics’s Resident Expert Advisory Council, otherwise known as REACH. Two years has passed in a blink of an eye, but it’s great to be able to report that I’ve had some amazing experiences and learning moments that have taken place throughout my residency.

My coresidents and I

First and foremost, the priceless learning experience. To the new, first-year residents, I would like to advise this – “Residency is what YOU make of it. You reap what you sow!” Don’t expect to be stuck inside a small box. Remember when you came out of dental school? How many of you have come to a realization that what you learned in dental school was a bare minimum to become a dentist, and the learning starts AFTER dental school? Same exact thing with residency – there’s so much to learn and to be humbled by. I was fortunate to have obtained as much experience as possible during my residency at Columbia University.

An unlimited patient pool and the flexibility to schedule patients at my own leisure have provided opportunities to make the most of my residency. In addition, the population in New York seems to carry abnormal root canal anatomies more frequently than other states! For example, I’ve completed at least ten three-rooted premolars, which can be a rare commodity!

Dr. Craig Hirschberg visited our program to introduce us to the Foundation, its programs, and goals!

I would like to describe my typical week…
Official clinic time runs from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There are some didactic courses in between, either before the clinic time or during the lunch hour. After a full day of patients, I worked part-time performing root canal procedures every Tuesday and Thursday starting at 6:30 PM to around 9:00 PM. I’d also perform root canal procedures every Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and some Fridays as well. The best part of this moonlighting experience was that I was presented with so many challenging cases outside the residency that helped me grow exponentially as a clinician.

We also have emergency rotations, where each resident has his/her designated week to see walk-in emergency patients. As we are in New York, the city that never sleeps, we would have a full emergency schedule most of the time. An emergency rotation resident would typically see around 8 to 12 patients a day, performing various procedures such as pulpotomy, pulpectomy, full initial root canal therapy, retreatment, incision and drainage, and consultation. I personally believe that this was one of the most valuable learning experiences as it forced me to stay on my feet for the whole day.

Over the two years, I am constantly humbled by the cases that are presented to me. Even after 400 cases during residency and 300 cases from moonlighting, I go through what’s called a “roller-coaster phase.” I describe this phase as the feeling going from, “Oh, I think I can flawlessly diagnose or perform ANY case now!” to “Okay, I have never seen this before – how do I solve this?!”

Visiting with two other members of REACH, Dr. Essi Farrokh and Dr. Carolyn Kilbride

Predictability can be enjoyable, but I believe that unpredictability is exhilarating. Root-end surgeries? Yes please! Thanks to the many faculty members that are very proficient and comfortable at root-end surgeries, we as residents were able to tackle many root-end surgery cases with the utmost confidence. It’s always a relief to have that skill in your back pocket, and I’m glad to have obtained that.


Working with a patient in the Helping Hand Clinic in Jamaica!

Above all, the highlight of my residency was when I had the opportunity to serve in Jamaica as an endodontic provider along with my partners-in-crime Dr. Brett Gilbert and Dr. Ravi Singh. Of the many true treasures I’ve obtained from this trip, one that tops all would be a lifelong friendship with these two amazing individuals! Overall, it was great to be a part of an initiative that started in March of 2016, when the Foundation sent its first team of volunteers to the Helping Hand clinic, in which no root canal therapy had been provided until then and many teeth were extracted when they could have been saved by an endodontist. Now that there is an endodontic presence at the clinic, more and more Jamaicans are coming to the clinic asking to have their teeth saved. With the help of our generous sponsors Henry Schein Cares for the supplies and Seiler for the awesome microscope, we were able to save so many teeth that otherwise would have been extracted. With all the love and appreciation in Jamaica for the services that we provided, it’s an understatement to say that in America, we take our “tooth saving option” for granted, and let’s all remember that our tooth is always WORTH SAVING!

One of my partners in crime, Dr. Ravi Singh!

Our whole team together–repping the Foundation AND Henry Schein Cares Foundation on our scrubs!