And that's the million dollar question, isn't it? Short answer: I enjoy dentistry. It brings me fulfillment.
Long answer: How much time do you have?
Because really, like every other major part of what makes me the person I am today, it never occurs in a linear fashion. It takes years of positive and negative experiences, heavily influenced by personal desires, societal expectations, and arguably the most important: cultural expectations. Being raised by first-generation Chinese-Canadian parents one expects a certain amount of traditional values. Study hard, be at the top of your class, become a doctor, be respected.
Why does being a doctor play such an important role in the way we are raised? Society in general recognizes this and it's quite a common stereotype.
My family was never this extreme, but I certainly found conversations leaning in this direction at least a few times a week.
A little bit of background: my father is a plastic surgeon, my mother a pianist. When my older sister was born, mother gave up on her musical career to focus completely on raising us children. Growing up I saw how my father was treated in public compared to my mother. The power of having the letters "D" and "R" preceding his surname seemed to give an invisible weight and gravitas to every word he spoke. People would stop and listen. People would laugh at his jokes, no matter how cringe-worthy. To this day I laugh at those moments when my dad would state some incorrect fact and the sheeple in the room nodding in hypnotic approval.
My mother, an artist, would speak of how she used to be bold and outgoing. How she used to be so brave - so confident amongst her friends. But in the Chinese community, an artist is no doctor, and as such every equal action and idea is perceived as inferior. She remained strong and silent. Only as a teenager did it dawn on me: her push for scholastic excellence was so that we wouldn't experience the same undercurrent of microaggression.
"Don't go into music or the arts", my mother would request. "Become a doctor. Have status. Don't let the world look down on you like they do to me."
Like most young boys, I played around with the idea of becoming a firefighter, policeman, or architect. Construction worker because I loved large machinery. Palaeontology from my fascination with dinosaurs. I even spent a few years sculpting and painting miniatures to compete at the international level. But for every occupation my parents would have the medical equivalent:
Construction? Orthopaedic surgeon. Sculpting miniatures? Plastic surgeon or dentist. Dinosaurs? Geriatric medicine.
I'm not an academically gifted individual. I just work hard and am way too polite (even for a Canadian). I can sit for endless hours and study, but even this did not guarantee stellar grades. So when applying for medicine and dentistry, I was going in with... well, what's a polite way to say this... a "barely competitive GPA". Thank the sweet, sweet Lord that the interview would be weighed disproportionately high for admissions. Even so, I royally bombed at my first year of interviews (a topic for another time), which sealed my fate for another year of undergrad.
Historically the admissions average for dentistry was much higher than medicine (88% vs 84% in 2015), as such my goal was to become a doctor. My chances of getting into the school of dentistry were so slim that I never told my parents of my application - no need to cause undue stress from being rejected by TWO schools never mind one.
You know what happens next.
Remember how I'm not an academically gifted lad? Well that stayed the same throughout dental school, which was fine because my interest in the material drove me through the countless hours of studying. What I learned was that I loved talking with patients. Listening to their stories and why they were in my chair. I loved the artistic nature of dentistry: fixing teeth, constructing smiles, and rebuilding confidence.
When I moved to Toronto to complete a year of hospital residency (GPR = general practice residency), it further solidified my belief that my place was at the patient's side. As much as I enjoyed oral surgery, it gave me no satisfaction to walk into a room and do work with a patient zonked out on drugs. I love chair side banter, so when my audience is as responsive as a beached whale it just doesn't hit the same cord. During my mid-residency evaluation an instructor politely informed me that,
So here we are again: why dentistry? It's quite simple:
I love my family. I love my patients. I love the work I do.
Okay, so then why did you leave this behind to pursue a career in international modelling? That my friend, is a talk for another day...