Compiled by Dr. Moein Sadrkhani
In this month’s Resident Spotlight, Dr. Moein Sadrkhani interviews Dr. Adam Walker. Born and raised in Alaska, Dr. Walker graduated from dental school from University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine in 2011 and is married to his high school sweetheart, Sabrina, whom he describes as his rock. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of four and was told she would not live past the age of eight. She will soon turn 33 and is an incredible mother to their four-year-old son, Leo. Adam worked as a general dentist for six years in Anchorage, Alaska, before attending the endodontic residency program at University of California San Francisco. He will graduate from his program at the end of June and then he will move back to Denver, where he will join Endodontics of Cherry Creek & DTC.
The Paper Point: How did you decide to be a dentist? I know your dad, Bill Walker, is the ex-governor of Alaska — why dentistry and not politics?
Dr. Walker: Like most of us, I was drawn to the medical sciences in high school and college. During my freshman year in college, I participated in a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where I assisted physicians and dentists for a week. This is where I realized my desire to pursue dentistry and never looked back. Both of my parents are career attorneys (as is my oldest sister) and my dad decided to run for governor after feeling discouraged about the direction the state was heading. He is the most passionate Alaskan I know and it was incredible to see him pour his heart into the state every day for the last four years.
The Paper Point: How were those six years in Anchorage as a general dentist? What made you to apply for endodontics?
Dr. Walker: My wife and I are both from Alaska so it was a natural fit for us to return home after I graduated from dental school. Alaska is an amazing state and I had a great experience working in a private group practice for those six years. I didn’t do an AEGD or GPR after dental school, so it was nice to be surrounded by mentors in my early years of practice. I got to experience all aspects of dentistry and after about four or five years of practice, I began to realize how much I enjoyed endo over any other procedure. I reached out to one of the local endodontists in Anchorage and he invited me to shadow him on my days off to learn more about the specialty. After several weeks of shadowing (probably after he got sick of me hanging around his office) he encouraged me to apply for residency and I was lucky to get accepted.
The Paper Point: You spoke highly of your wife, Sabrina. How did you guys meet? I know she is very active to heighten awareness, education and quality of life for those affected by cystic fibrosis. Are you also involved in that foundation? How can others help?
Dr. Walker: We met in high school, but we knew of each other before then since Anchorage isn’t a very big city. She was an incoming freshman and I was the creepy about-to-be junior (even though we are only 11 months apart in age). I am so proud of how active she is in the cystic fibrosis community and how hard she advocates for finding a cure for the disease. She is very passionate about using physical activity, specifically running, to improve lung function and overall quality of life. She has completed dozens of half marathons and two full marathons, including the New York City Marathon in 2017 that I was fortunate to participate in as well. We are very involved in both the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Boomer Esiason Foundation and love fundraising and getting involved in any event that supports finding a cure for the disease. When Sabrina was diagnosed as a young child, it was considered a childhood disease because it was rare to live beyond the age of about eight years old. Today, because of medical advancements in the therapeutics used to slow the progression of the disease, a child born today with cystic fibrosis has a life expectancy that extends into their 40s. People with CF are now living long enough to go to college, get married and even have children which seemed impossible 30 years ago. We were very blessed to welcome our son, Leo, into the world in 2015 and are the proud parents of a super active and hilarious four-year-old who loves to laugh and play.
The Paper Point: You recently were involved in a good samaritan act, as I understand you stopped a child kidnapping suspect, who was trying to kidnap some one right in front of your eyes. Please tell us more!
Dr. Walker: Sabrina, Leo and I were walking around a busy San Francisco street in the middle of the day when we overheard a struggle between a mother who had a newborn baby in a carrier on her chest and her toddler’s hand in hers while a man was trying to run off with the toddler. After some commotion, he put the child down and started running down the street. The mother began screaming for help and for the police and that’s when my instincts took over and I took off sprinting after him. I chased him for about three blocks and was shouting for people to help catch or corner him. A few others joined in the chase and, luckily, by the time I caught up to him he stopped running and didn’t resist my arrest. I grabbed him and held him against a building until the police arrived and arrested him. I’m grateful that the child was unharmed and I feel extremely lucky to not have been hurt in the process either.
The Paper Point: Let’s get back to our endo world. How was your residency experience? Was it what you had in mind, were there any surprises?
Dr. Walker: I feel very fortunate to be at University of California San Francisco. We have an amazing program with a very diverse faculty that contribute so much collective knowledge and experience. When I interviewed at UCSF I knew they were in a period of transition and were searching for a new director so, at the time of the interview, I did not know who the director was going to be or what direction the program was going. A few months after I got accepted I learned that Dr. Mike Sabeti was taking over as the director and it was a little intimidating since I was going into a program where I had not yet met the director. I quickly realized the program was in great hands after meeting him. He is both an endodontist and a periodontist which has really enhanced our surgical experience and training. More than that, he is a great person and someone I genuinely consider as a close friend. Again, I feel very lucky to have trained here and am excited to see where Dr. Sabeti takes the program in the future!
The Paper Point: Which aspect of residency have you found to be most valuable? (lit review, treating patients, seminars …)
Dr. Walker: Since I went into residency after practicing as a general dentist for a few years I really appreciated the clinical aspects of residency the most. There is so much to learn in the short two years and I always felt like I learned the most when I was looking through the microscope. Obviously, the literature sets the foundation of our education and I really enjoyed the balance between the clinical and didactic learning to help support our overall experience.
The Paper Point: I wish you all the best in your new adventure in Colorado. Any final words for our readers?
Dr. Walker: Since most of the readers are residents or soon-to-be residents and with me being at the tail end of residency, I just want to remind everyone to enjoy the ride. As rough as it seems when you are in the middle of a brutal week with exams, tough patients/cases, mock boards, etc … remember to stop and smell the roses every now and then. I’m so blown away by how fast those two years went by and, as excited as I am to move on to the next chapter of my life, I know I’ll look back on these two years with very fond memories. It’s a pretty amazing experience to be thrown into a tightly-knit group of like-minded people that are going through the exact same experience as you. I feel like I grew a lot in my residency, not only endodontically but as a person as well. Keep a positive mindset, commit to improving every day and cherish the overall experience, because it goes by quick!
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.