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The Catalyst

Dental graduate's 'sweet tooth' forges relationships

By Aimee Murray
Public Relations

Seattle native Dr. Elizabeth Smith unwinds from her busy schedule with outdoor activities. photo provided

International champion for dental health, devoted wife, dedicated student, mom to be and now a graduate of the College of Dental Medicine, Elizabeth Smith has worked tirelessly during the last several years to achieve her goal of becoming a dentist.

Originally from Seattle, Wash., Smith, the youngest of five children, started working in her father’s dental office when she was 12 years old. Though she was limited to cleaning the office on weekends her duties soon expanded to include sterilizing instruments and scheduling appointments. Eventually Smith became a dental assistant and began helping with procedures.  

Pursuing her interest in dentistry while studying biology at the University of Washington, Smith was a volunteer dental assistant in 2006 and 2007 with International Smile Power, a non-profit organization that fosters partnerships around the world to improve and sustain dental health. During her time volunteering in Jamaica, Uganda and Kenya, Smith met countless adults and children who changed her outlook on life and dentistry.

“In Uganda I met a young girl who, by her appearance, we could tell she was in severe pain. We found three of her permanent teeth to be so ridden with decay that they needed to be extracted and it seemed the bacteria had already spread as she had a high fever and swollen tonsils. Even though she’d never seen a dentist before, she was brave enough to trust us to care for her. Treating her increased my commitment to go to dental school so I could someday help more children like her,” Smith said.

After graduating in 2008, Smith explored other career interests including meteorology, teaching and ultrasound technology before deciding to become a dentist like her father and one of her older sisters.

“I spent time observing at Evergreen Health in Washington in the ultrasound unit. While observing, I found that most patients they provided care for were people they’d most likely see only once. I realized that in dentistry we get to see our patients regularly, which gives us a chance to build relationships with them,” Smith said.

Recounting her feelings at the time, Smith said she realized that it’s a privilege for dentists to get to know their patients. They get to witness the growth of pediatric patients every six months, help patients regain self-esteem by correcting dental imperfections and relieve patients’ severe pain.

Smith applied for admission and was accepted to MUSC’s College of Dental Medicine in 2010. Because Smith’s husband Mike works for Boeing, she thought they might be able to move to Charleston together. The couple soon found that a move would be detrimental to Mike’s career and though her dreams of becoming a dentist were coming to fruition, Smith and her husband faced the fact that she would be going to Charleston alone. Smith set out on her new journey without Mike but with his devout support and constant encouragement.

While contemplating the prudence of her move, Smith said it was extremely difficult being away from her husband, family and friends.

“The hardest part was not being able to see Mike every day. We’d talk on the phone twice daily and travel one way or another to visit at least once every month or so.”

Despite the distance, the couple, now married for seven years, made it work but look forward to not having to make the 2,500 mile trips come May 16.

Smith said getting to know some of the other students in the program helped while she was so far away from her husband, family and friends.

“A group of friends in my class and I try to get together pretty often for craft nights. We’ve painted, made soap and even melted crayons on canvas together. I also love to bake and I’m glad my class has been willing to help me consume all the cookies, cupcakes and cake pops I’ve made during the last four years,” Smith said.

Tiffany Lovelace, a fellow classmate who is also graduating from the College of Dental Medicine and one of Smith’s closest friends in the program, met Smith at orientation on their first day of dental school. Lovelace said Smith sat next to her and with a huge smile on her face and introduced herself; they’ve been friends ever since.

Describing Smith, Lovelace said, “Elizabeth is the most kind, selfless person you will ever meet. She’s the type of person who will be at your door with homemade soup when you’re sick and stay up with you until dawn helping you study for an exam she’s already going to ace. She’s always just a phone call away.”

Like many of their classmates who appreciated Smith’s baking skills, Lovelace said she’s enjoyed cake pops that look like bunnies for Easter, bloodshot eyeballs at Halloween and reindeer with pretzel antlers in December.

While describing the sweet treats Smith made for the class, Lovelace said, “I’ve had tooth and toothbrush-shaped cookies during test weeks and cakes that would put Carlos the Cake Boss out of business.” Lovelace also told the story of how she once baked a cake for everyone in the clinic and how her classmates thought Smith made it so they all thanked her instead of Lovelace.  “She’s definitely a dentist who satisfies your sweet tooth,” Lovelace said.

Aside from the family she found in her fellow students, Smith said the attending dentists in the clinics were wonderful to work with. Smith recalled an amusing experience during her time in clinic. One particular day she had an appointment with a patient to fit him for a permanent crown. She removed the temporary crown and meticulously positioned the new one. Everything was going flawlessly, so she called the attending over to check the fit. He agreed everything was as it should be and that the patient was ready to be cemented. That’s when things took a strange turn.

“I proceeded to get the cement and other supplies ready, but when I came back my heart dropped. The crown had disappeared and I couldn’t find it anywhere. Luckily, a classmate who was assisting me said ‘did you ask your attending doctor? He has a habit of walking away with things sometimes.’ Sure enough we asked him if he had seen it and after smiling mischievously he produced the crown from his pocket. I was so relieved. Dr. Morrow always wanted us to leave clinic having learned something. I suppose that day my lesson was to keep a close eye on my crown, especially around Dr. Morrow,” Smith said.

As her time at MUSC draws to a close, Smith said with the exception of being physically separated from her husband, she wouldn’t change any part of the last four years.

“I have received an outstanding education, gained exceptional clinical experience and shared priceless moments with friends I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

 

May 19, 2014

 

 
 
 

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