If you are considering pursuing a residency after dental school, you may feel overwhelmed by the options. Residency programs are small, and reliable information can be hard to find. Every one will have its own unique advantages and drawbacks, and it will be up to you to network and find information on the individual programs that interest you.
I am currently halfway through my 12-month AEGD residency at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio, Texas. I initially pursued a VA residency because of the educational experience. For veterans with a service-connected total disability, comprehensive dental care is free, which means that ideal treatment plans can be offered without cost being the primary driving factor. I have been fortunate to have received extensive and comprehensive training in many specialty areas of dentistry in my time with the program so far: surgical placement and restoration of implants (single units, FPDs and full arches), periodontal surgery, IV conscious sedation, complex endodontics (I just performed an apicoectomy!), orthodontics (Invisalign certification, plus limited and comprehensive traditional wire-and-bracket), lots of traditional crown and bridge, intraoral scanning and milling using CEREC, full-mouth rehabilitations, and rotations in TMD and sleep apnea. I have been lucky to work under a passionate director and a team of dedicated specialists who have invested a lot in our training.
The main limitation of the program is time. Many treatment plans require more than 12 months to complete, so I am not always able to see big treatment plans from beginning to end. Fortunately, there are a multitude of great learning cases, so I plan and work-up some cases, while seeing through the final delivery and maintenance on others. My work days typically run long into the evenings. Since many of my patients have complex treatment plans, a substantial amount of planning, diagnostic workups and research are necessary outside of daily clinic hours. While the workload can be a challenge, it has been a great experience overall.
It is important to note that my experience is limited to just one VA and that programs can vary significantly. Besides the educational opportunity, other intangible aspects of completing a VA residency are arguably more important and meaningful. In treating major cases, I have the opportunity to see patients for many appointments and to foster a familiar relationship. The majority are amiable, patient and pleasant to work with, despite having sustained life-altering disabilities. Hearing their stories and learning of the sacrifices they made is impressive and inspiring. A program combining exceptional learning opportunities with a rewarding and noble cause can be hard to find. I strongly recommend interested students to consider residency training with a VA program.
~ Dr. Andrew Trooien, Buffalo ’17