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New Practitioner Spotlight: Dr. Helen Meyer

Helen Yang, D.M.D.Compiled by Dr. Moein Sadrkhani

This issue’s New Practitioner Spotlight features former Resident & New Practitioner Committee Chair Dr. Helen Meyer. Read on for her thoughts on the current pandemic and her road to endodontics.

The Paper Point: Lets start by addressing the big elephant in the room. How are you dealing with the COVID-19 situation? How is your practice?

Dr. Meyer: I work in a practice with oral surgery and endodontics in Colorado Springs. We’ve been open seeing patients for emergencies during the past few months of the pandemic. I am fortunate to have an amazing team who is motivated to work and keep normalcy as much as possible, and my patients have been gracious and grateful to receive treatment.

We’ve been spacing out patients in two hour blocks to eliminate overlap and allow more time for disinfection. We reschedule patients who are not experiencing acute pain or swelling, and conduct pre-op screening and mouth rinses. Many of our referring offices were temporarily closed, but we saw an uptick in self-referred patients. It seemed that patients were commuting in from all corners of the state, as far as three hours away.

With Colorado slowly opening up and allowing dental offices to resume routine dentistry two weeks ago, life is cautiously returning to normal.

The Paper Point: Lets go back to normal, what interested you in endodontics?

Dr. Meyer: In school I dedicated energy to learning about all the dental specialties, but endodontics was ultimately the right fit for several reasons. I believe in the central tenet of endodontics, which is to save teeth. I enjoy being the “emergency doctor” of dentistry, seeing patients during their tough times and helping to relieve their suffering. I also like the pace of practice, wherein I devote my attention and energy to one patient at a time rather than running multiple rooms like general dentistry and some specialties do.

Finally— and I think this is an under appreciated aspect of endodontics— I really enjoy the intellectual work up and diagnosis process. The times when I tell a patient their pain is not odontogenic, solve the mystery of a vague non-localized toothache, or predict a patient’s post-op healing from their pre-op symptoms feel truly gratifying. I’m only into my ninth month of private practice, and I love being an endodontist.

The Paper Point: How was your residency at UIC? Was it tougher than what you had in mind?

Dr. Meyer: The endodontics residency at University of Illinois at Chicago came highly recommended to me by my mentors in dental school, and for good reason. As someone who started residency having only ever completed one molar root canal, I was tentative during my early days in clinic. However, our faculty members gave us the right amount of support and leeway to experiment and learn techniques at our own pace. I took full advantage of opportunities to learn from dozens of faculty members and left with a phenomenal didactic and clinical experience.

I especially loved three aspects of my residency. First, I appreciated the opportunity to obtain a Masters degree during the two year residency (without paying additional tuition nor taking significantly more coursework). Second, I appreciated the program supporting residents moonlighting at local offices. I was working nearly every Saturday in my 2nd year, which helped pay the bills and also gave me experience with four-handed dentistry and communicating closely with the general dentist. Third, Chicago itself was a large asset with a well connected endodontic community. I attended regular meetings at the Coolidge study club and felt comfortable reaching out and observing at local endodontists’ offices.

The Paper Point: You have numerous leadership positions throughout these years, including Chair of our committee, ASDA District 1 Trustee, ADA Board Liaison and co-founder of the Harvard chapter of the American Dental Education Association. Tell us more about these experiences?

Dr. Meyer: Being an excellent dentist is more than having head and hand skills; it’s also about being an effective communicator and leader of the dental team and business. Throughout my dental career I strove to stay involved in organized dentistry, hone my leadership skills, and connect with my dental peers.

Serving as a national leader of the American Student Dental Association during 3rd year of dental school was one of my most rewarding experiences. I learned how the board of a large organization functions, organized conferences for New England dental students, and gave presentations across the country. As someone who used to fear public speaking, I surprised myself. I highly recommend all dental students and residents to get involved in a national dental organization, be it the ADA, AAE, ADEA, etc. These groups all need representation from young dentists.

The Paper Point: How was the past year as the chair of the Resident and New Practitioner Committee and organizing APICES?

Dr. Meyer: It was a huge honor to serve as the chair of the RNPC, especially given that several of my mentors had served roles on this committee too. APICES is a special opportunity for endodontic residents to meet each other and start friendships that could last decades. I had a blast working with the committee and AAE staff to brainstorm speakers for the conference and plan social events.

The Paper Point: How was it out there in the real world as an endodontist? Any tips for residents that are graduating soon? Any surprises?

Dr. Meyer: I would love to chat with graduating endodontic residents if anyone has questions about contract reviews or what to look for in their job search.

The biggest advice that comes to mind when you are first starting out is, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. In my first year, there have been cases where I’ve cautioned patients as having a very questionable prognosis (i.e. huge ledges or perforations or very calcified or double sinus tracts) that ended up surprising both of us. If you have the time and a willing and fully informed patient, don’t be afraid to give tough cases a shot even if it takes a few visits and/or you don’t make money from the case instead of giving up.

The Paper Point: Are there any good books or series, movies suggestions for all our readers staying home as much as possible these days?

Dr. Meyer: There is a silly television show that came out five years ago called “Last Man On Earth,” which is about a man who survives a global virus outbreak in 2020! Talk about prescient. It has some ridiculous plot twists. My husband got me into it.

The Paper Point: Thank you for an interesting interview, and for your service to the RNPC! I wish you all the best and good luck with your practice.

About the author: Dr. Moein Sadrkhani is chair of AAE’s Resident and New Practitioner Committee and a UCLA Endodontics resident, Class of 2020.