Compiled by Dr. Moein Sadrkhani
In this month’s Resident Spotlight, AAE’s Resident and New Practitioner committee member Dr. Moein Sadrkhani interviews Dr. Luis Franco, who emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. and went on to become a U.S. Navy pilot, and is presently in endodontic residency at Boston University.
The Paper Point: I just read your bio, and wow, what an amazing journey. Let’s start from your childhood. From what I understand, you and your sister were raised by your mother with the help of your uncle, and you had to work from a very early age. How did you manage to find time to while working to study and do so well?
Dr. Franco: Time is always there; it all depends on how you decide to use it. I can tell you that unfortunately there was not much time for parties or “hanging out”. Thank goodness “nerds” tend to be excluded from most of those activities. In reality, teaching others is the best kept secret to really learn a subject in depth. I was always good at math and science and as part of the after school tutoring program; I got to have fun teaching others; seeing them succeed and take my knowledge of the subject to a whole new level and practice my English while doing it.
The Paper Point: How were the first few years living in the USA? Was it like what you had imagined? Better? Worse?
Dr. Franco: The first few years were extremely rough to say the least. All of the sudden you are thrown into a completely different educational system with students from all over the world trying to learn a common language. Yet again, mathematics were my saving glory and I managed to succeed at least in that subject while learning English from my amazing ESL teachers. I can say that the U.S. was nothing like I imagined — my vision of the USA was based on the Spanish-subtitled TV series The Wonder Years and all of the sudden, I find myself in Paterson, N.J. As you can probably imagine, it was just a tad different.
The Paper Point: What encouraged you to join the U.S. Navy?
Dr. Franco: The simple answer is: a poster. One day while heading back home from work, I saw the most amazing poster of a full moon illuminating a USN aircraft carrier in the middle of ocean while an F-14 Tomcat is heading in for landing and the phrase “Let the Journey Begin” above it. The reality is that I realized that the U.S. Navy was the way to truly become part of this great nation, achieve much greater heights (become a pilot), make a name for myself, provide for my family and make them proud.
The Paper Point: You mentioned you had the opportunity to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, please tell us more about that experience.
Dr. Franco: Hurricane Katrina brought dismay and devastation to much of Florida and Louisiana while I was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, which was almost destroyed by it as well. I must say that the training, organization and survival skills that the Navy imparted on me helped me survive the experience and quickly become part of working parties to get the town back in shape, help people clean up and provide them with much needed food and water.
The Paper Point: When did your dentistry journey start? Did you ever dream about being a dentist prior to the Navy?
Dr. Franco: I confess that dentistry did not cross my mind until much later in my life and after finishing my commitment in the U.S. Navy. After leaving the Navy, it took me a few years of soul searching and a lot of hard work working two jobs to realize that I needed to get back on my feet. As destiny would have it, I was sent to the dental clinic while volunteering at the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) and had the opportunity to discover an amazing profession that I have become passionate about. At the VA, an amazing retired Army colonel introduced me to dentistry and what it can do improve people’s lives. I saw people come in terrible pain due to an infection or unable to smile or socialize due to a physical or psychological war injuries, and then leave smiling and out of pain after a dentist restored — not only their teeth but confidence as well.
The Paper Point: I know flight training is extremely hard and demands a lot of patience and focus. Is there any relationship between that and endodontics? I know by experience that if you lose your patience in endodontics, you either perforate or separate a file!
Dr. Franco: I must agree that both worlds have a lot in common. Both professions require much preparation, practice, patience and constant honing of your skills. My previous flight training has definitely helped me understand and work through the demands of endo.
The Paper Point: How is endodontic residency going? What was the best experience you’ve had so far?
Dr. Franco: Endo residency has been amazing and brutal at the same time. Every day I realize how little I know and how much more I can be when I observe my faculty talk, teach, do a root canal or help me get a patient out of terrible pain. My residency has taught me how to look at things more critically, understand every step taken and how to help patients when they are at their worse with pain when others have been unable to.
The Paper Point: What is next?
Dr. Franco: Finish my residency; get established in a practice; continue helping others to the best of my ability; and thank and honor my family and country for helping me become who I am today.
The Paper Point: Dr. Franco, thank you for sharing your amazing story with us, and thank you for your service. Any last words for our readers?
Dr. Franco: Take advantage of every opportunity, walk with your head up and with purpose, never stop learning, help others, and last but not least: be humble and thankful. Let the journey begin!
About the author: Dr. Moein Sadrkhani is a member of AAE’s Resident and New Practitioner Committee and a UCLA Endodontics resident, Class of 2020.