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5 Years In: The Alumni Experience

March 21, 2013

As our D4s prepare for commencement and our incoming D1s get ready to join us, we take the long(er) view from alum Dr. Sophia Cornish.  Thanks so much to Dr. Cornish for giving us her insight!

Dr. Sophia Cornish, Class of 2008

Dr. Sophia Cornish, Class of 2008

A few months ago a patient called me frantically on a Saturday. He fractured off his front tooth at the gum line and he had his brother’s wedding to go to that night. Unsure of how I was going to make him whole again for the wedding, I threw all my archetypal dental training out the window. I have never seen a patient more grateful for incomplete root canal and his temporary post and crown. It may not have been the perfect order of events, but he was out of pain and looked like himself. He made it to his brother’s wedding on time and I have a loyal patient for life. In this instance, the best thing I could do for this patient was work outside of the box. I embraced the imperfection of life!

As I walked out of the doors of University of Michigan Dental School after graduation, I had great visions of where my career would lead. I had spent the last 4 years learning the “ideal”. The ideal crown prep, the ideal treatment plan, the ideal denture series. I was now ready to put all of these perfect plans into action and build a patient pool filled with perfect mouths. I had all the facts in my back pocket and was ready to make a difference.

The reality of life is very different from what that starry-eyed student dreamed. In an ideal world every patient would heed my advice, all patients could afford care, and all treatment plans would be performed in a timely and complete manner. However, the real world has imperfections, and therefore has many patients who cannot afford, or do not want the ideal. It is a challenge to accept that a patient chooses to extract a tooth with recurrent decay. I know that tooth could be saved with a new crown, but the patient does not have the finances, or desire. Instead of struggling to force my goals for perfection, it is my job to help each individual figure out their own personal goals and to match them with my desire for health. I need to help my patients reach health on their own terms, by providing information and support. I also need to be accepting, even if their route to a healthy mouth wouldn’t be my own choice.

Now, five years later, my vision of perfection is slightly different. Dental school teaches the “ideal” in order to provide framework for a less than perfect world. With this knowledge I went into the world armed to make a difference. I am trained to know what perfection looks like, but recognize the inherent limitations of perfection. I cannot make good choices for people, nor can I change the financial aspect of dentistry. I can use my creativity to help my patients achieve health and a beautiful smile, even outside of the dental school paradigm. I have learned that by embracing the innate imperfection of my field I am better able to create a healthy and happy patient. And really, isn’t that perfection in itself?

Dr. Sophia Cornish graduated in 2008 and practices in Dexter, Mi.  Check out her practice at:  Alumni- would you be willing to contribute to our blog?  Email the Editor at

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