An eye-opening experience in the Land of Enchantment

Clark (top right) spent a week at Cordova's practice observing patient procedures and office operations.

Clark (top right) spent a week at Cordova’s practice observing patient procedures and office operations.

The opportunity to shadow a practicing dentist in New Mexico offered Dr. Daniel Clark, then a fourth-year dental student, a glimpse of what clinical dentistry looks like in private practice and reawakened his zeal for the profession at a time he needed it most.

For Dr. Clark, who just graduated from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, the challenges first set in during his second year of dental school. That year’s curriculum — largely lab based — just didn’t come naturally to him. He often second-guessed the accuracy of his work.

But, he held on, waiting to see what interaction with patients would be like when the clinical portion of the curriculum commenced toward the end of second semester.

By the end of the third year, things didn’t get any better for Dr. Clark. Concerns about whether he had met all of the patient-based procedure requirements to progress to a fourth-year dental student came to the forefront. Disenchantment set in. Would he continue in the profession?

That all changed when he spent a week at the Las Cruces, N.M., general dentistry practice of alumna Dr. Kathleen Cordova.

“My preceptorship in Las Cruces with Dr. Cordova reinforced the fact that there is a lot more to dentistry than dental school,” Dr. Clark said. “Watching her and her husband — oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Nathan Dickerson — on a daily basis was very reassuring, because not only were they happy with what they were doing, everyone around them was, too. To see people who were doing this for decades and still enjoying it was powerful.”

Each morning for his preceptorship, Dr. Clark, from Farmington, N.M., would arrive at Dr. Cordova’s office by 8 a.m. Once he had made the rounds greeting staff, there were already patients in at least three operatories. Traffic remained steady throughout the day, with a stream of hygiene and recall appointments and restorative work being performed at any given point.

“The preceptorship gave me an opportunity to see what dentistry in a private setting looked like,” Dr. Clark said. “Most dentistry happens in offices like that. It’s something that we’re constantly told but very rarely see in dental school. A lot of gaps were filled in for me from Dr. Cordova.”

Dr. Cordova herself was one of the first TAMBCD students to benefit from a preceptorship. It’s a program she considers invaluable for learning about all aspects of dentistry.

“I consulted the notes I took during my preceptorship when I was setting up my practice,” said Dr. Cordova, who now includes a visit to a local banker as part of each student’s week with her — just so they can get a feel for different practice financing options available.

Dr. Cordova — who has mentored nine students over the past 10 summers, also uses the opportunity to stress the importance of respect and consideration at any dental practice.

“I let the students know that your patient is the person who trusts you, and you need to treat that person with respect,” she said. “Everything else falls into place after that. No one does this alone; remember your staff.”

This summer, Dr. Cordova will once again share her time, expertise — and love for New Mexico — with another TAMBCD student.

Dr. Clark won’t be far away. He begins a new chapter at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, where he will start an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency.

“You have to find someone who cares enough about dentistry and the school to agree to let someone come out and hang out with you for a while,” Dr. Clark said of the preceptorship. “I think that says a lot about how Dr. Cordova feels about the education she got here at Baylor.”

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