It is graduation weekend and my heart is full. Our last child is graduating from high school, closing one book in his life and hopefully embarking on his next phase when he starts his direct entry DMD program at Case in the fall. The profession of dentistry has brought me so close to other mom-dentists like me, who have used this beautiful life to nurture our children and help them achieve their dreams.

On August 1, 1991, I received a call from the State University of Buffalo, School of Dental Medicine School of Admissions Director asking me if I wanted a wait-list spot that had just opened up two weeks before school was to start. As if it were yesterday, I can still feel that visceral flush of giddy weakness, knowing how that one call was going to change my life forever. With that one call, I was going to one day learn skills that would allow me to provide healing. It was that one call that would allow me to gain the trust of another human being. It was that one call that would create an identity in my community, that people would look to me with respect and consider me a leader.

But if there is one thing that I am most grateful for the profession of dentistry, it is that as a mother, it has not only afforded me the time and the resources to raise my four children, but it has carved out certain characteristics in me that have made me a better mother. I was 6 months pregnant with my eldest son when I walked across the stage in my lavender accented cap and gown. Two months later, I would start my residency and then give birth to my daughter. Three years later those two children would accompany their mom to the dental school while she was on call or working on her research project. As if by osmosis, the love of health care would pass to the children because I have always loved being a dentist.

So imagine how touched I felt last week when I received the most cherished text from “A,” a former dental assistant who I met almost 20 years ago when I first worked as an associate endodontist. “Hi Dr. Q and Dr. U! I graduated yesterday and I wanted to say thank you for your support! I won a scholarship yesterday and I just feel like working with you both has enhanced my growth personally and professionally! Thank you!”

“A” was a petite, barely in her 20s, bright and congenial young lady. Unfortunately her looming health problems suspended her in a cycle of complacency. I remember seeing so much potential in her and I would talk to her to motivate and encourage her. I was pleasantly surprised that 10 years later, as a young married woman she reconnected with me and joined our practice. Now she was weaving a different dream, building a home and family. She eventually left our practice when she had her first child. Though we kept the position open for her for some time, she was looking for something that brought her work-life balance, especially with her child. She started working for another dentist-mom and became further inspired to enroll in the EFDA program at Case Western. An avid social media user, she posted proudly last September that she was excited to start her career as a mid-level provider in dentistry.

Seeing her post and getting her message, especially in the context of work-force challenges being faced in all sectors, made me pause to reflect on “A’s” journey. I understood that as dentists, we are not only charged with looking after our patients, but our communities including our staff and team communities. I recently moderated a lecture at the AAE a few weeks back called “Hiring, firing and keeping amazing team members” given by Kevin Henry, co-founder of Ignite DA. The team members today want to invest their time with people who are vested in them and the dreams that they have for themselves. We need to take our qualities of compassion and to nurture, applying them to our team members. We don’t necessarily know how long they will be with us, but while they are there, we have an obligation to uplift and empower because they are not just part of our story but we are also a part of theirs.

Dr. Usman may be reached at