The American Dental Association announced the recipients of its inaugural 10 Under 10 Awards which recognizes 10 new dentists who graduated less than 10 years ago. The winners were chosen because they are making a difference in their work, science, research & education, philanthropy, leadership & advocacy, and inspiring others. One of the 2017 10 Under 10 awards recipients is Dr. Gerald E. Davis II. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), he has demonstrated dedication to dental education through his work as the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and as an assistant professor at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and as a member of the ADA Test Construction Committee. At Meharry, he worked with Microsoft to make the college a development site for innovative new dental student training technologies.
In this interview, Dr. Davis discusses his transition from student to professional, the importance of lifelong education, and offers good advice for this year’s graduating class.
THE NEXTDDS: What exactly led you down the dentistry route to begin with?
Dr. Davis: I stumbled into this field. When I was in the 8th grade, I attended programs at Baylor College of Dentistry, where we had the opportunity to conduct dental research. The research programs were meant for high school students, but they allowed me to participate. Being exposed to the field of dental research at that age gave me the initial spark. From there, I went on to other programs they had, such as the dental admission program, post baccalaureate programs, etc. At some point along the line, I applied to dental school at Meharry. When I was in college, dentistry became a full-fledged commitment.
THE NEXTDDS: Great! What did you learn in dental school that you’ve carried on through your professional career?
Dr. Davis: There were so many golden nuggets I would say. The main lesson I learned was the realization that I chose a field in which every day was a final exam, and each one of those exams were gatekeepers. There are many gatekeeper moments for the educational pathway. I remember thinking to myself, “If I don’t pass this course or exam, everything will be on the line.” You must acclimate yourself to this testing lifestyle. One thing occurred to me one day. I realized even after graduating from dental school and becoming a licensed dentist, when I see a patient on a given day, I can make a poor decision right then and there that results in the same outcome, whether it be a lawsuit or malpractice. You can still be back at square one. It’s the reality check of knowing that this is a perpetual way of life. Bottom line, you are always being tested to make sure you stay on your toes at all times.
THE NEXTDDS: Very important! The ADA states that the award recipients are “making a difference and inspiring their colleagues through their work.” Was the idea of “making a difference” a reason why you pursued this field initially? Discuss the importance of having an impact on the profession.
Dr. Davis: My passion is education. I’ve always been in love with knowledge and helping another person understand something. I’ve seen so many cases where I’ve been in classrooms with professors who would belittle students by saying, “You don’t get this.” Or “You should’ve learned this last year.” One of the main areas of impact I wanted to have was the ability to relay information in such a fashion so that anyone who wants to pursue this field can do so successfully. That was really my desire. Getting into dental school or the field itself was hard and very selective. Only the people who knew someone in the field were guaranteed entry, so I wanted to find a way to extend this to anybody who isn’t connected. Basically, my passion is to help others become successful in this field. I want learning and teaching to be relayed in a fashion people can understand. I’ve been pursing that goal actively.
THE NEXTDDS: Fantastic! What steps did you take to prepare yourself for the transition from student to professional?
Dr. Davis: Whatever you want to be; I believe you already are. An oak tree is still an oak tree as a seed. All the elements for it to be an oak tree are housed in that seed. I’ve been preparing myself for this transition for years. In dental school, I carried myself a certain way. My peers would joke about me carrying a briefcase to school or in clinic when I was seeing patients, as well as humorous acts that showcased my professionalism. The point I’d like to drive home is this: If you are passionate about something, rather than abandon it and go in a completely different direction, find a way to marry what you are doing with the field that you’re pursuing. In my case, I was a biology major, but took all the prerequisite courses for education, so I tried to find a way to incorporate the dental and educational field in my profession. Some people see the way others do something and believe that’s the only way to do it, as opposed to realizing what they have is a uniqueness that will diversify the field and make an impact. If you want dentistry to propagate to the field that it can, you must diversify and bring in researchers, teachers, computer scientists, etc., not solely clinicians.
THE NEXTDDS: Wonderful insight! Are there a few things you know now as an established dental professional that you wish you learned as a D1 student?
Dr. Davis: I was doing better than I thought I was. There were times where I would think the world is coming to an end if I failed an exam. I used to be very hard on myself. I later realized that I was progressing just fine. As an academic dean, I have access to my own dental records and I saw my class rank and realized that I was not doing as bad as I thought I was. I was too critical on myself. A part of me is glad that I had that mind state because it pushed me to go forward. However, I do think to myself, “If I had known this, where would I be today?”
THE NEXTDDS: Discuss the importance of continuing education. How do you continue learning?
Dr. Davis: For me, it’s not good enough to have…for lack of a better term, if you have a gun, but no bullets, it doesn’t serve a purpose. I’d like to think that having the ability to teach and articulate information in a way others can understand is beautiful. However, if you don’t have any information to articulate then you don’t have anything to say. By default, I need to have enough information that’s worth relaying and a need to address. I focus on these 3 areas: lifelong testing, lifelong service, and lifelong learning. I’ve been involved with organized dentistry with the American Dental Association. I’ve attended programs such as UC San Diego’s Faculty Development for the Underserved, as well as free clinics for dental services. I also obtained my master’s degree in dental education at University of the Pacific. Now I’m enrolled in USC’s Oral Facial Pain and Oral Medicine program. Clearly, I’m not a stranger to continuing education, and I would encourage everyone to try to learn and to gain more information, so they can be better clinicians and simply be better the field.
THE NEXTDDS: Very motivating! What is your best recommendation for a student who is beginning this transition?
Dr. Davis: My best recommendation would be to marry your passion with the field. If you were originally an engineer or whatever your previous background was before dentistry, understand that that makes you an expert in that regard, and unique in this field. My mother used to tell me, “If you want to make an impact, you must find a need to fill it.” As a recent graduate, take the time to find a need and figure out how you can be a solution to that need. It will be hard because we all have mountains of student loans to pay back, but I believe that if God provides you a vision, He will also provide the provision. If you have the vision to follow a path, the provision to do so will come. I am a living witness of that story and belief. I would encourage any dental school graduate to try to do that same pursuit.
THE NEXTDDS: What a great message for this year’s graduating class! Dr. Davis, thank you for taking the time to share your dentistry journey with us! Congratulations on making the ADA’s 10 Under 10 List!