Career Compass

On balancing your passions: Q&A with Dr. Erin Bumann

As future dentists, we are often asked, “What do you want to be?” or “What do you want to do when you’re finished with school?” What I have realized is that many of us have goals that span many disciplines and interests, and it’s hard for us to choose just one (or even a couple) upon which to build a career.

Dr. Erin Bumann is an assistant professor and doctoral faculty in the University of Missouri – Kansas City’s Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences. Hanging behind her desk is an impressive wall of degrees, certificates and awards — she is a pediatric dentist, a researcher, a student mentor, an educator, an author and a mom of two. Here, Dr. Bumann offers some advice on how we can pursue not just one but all of our passions.

ASDA Blog: How did you get involved in dentistry, specifically research?

Dr. Erin Bumann: In high school, I loved my science labs and I remember thinking, “Too bad I can’t get a job doing this,” which is funny and ironic, seeing [where I am now]. I thought I would study either advertising or health care.

I went to undergrad at the University of Michigan, knowing I wanted to eventually go to dental school. I applied to maybe 10 dental schools like most students, in addition to the DDS/Ph.D. program at Michigan … [yet] I pulled my application and basically decided that at 21 years old, I couldn’t commit to eight years of anything — I don’t care what it was, even eating ice cream (and I love ice cream). I knew I was 100% committed to dental school, and I was 80-90% committed to the Ph.D. program, I just needed to learn more.

By fourth year, I was ready to commit to a Ph.D. program and attended the University of California – San Francisco. When I finished my Ph.D., I applied nationally for some unique opportunities for a pediatric dentistry residency/research postdoctoral training combination. I went back to the University of Michigan and completed a four-year program that allowed me time for a formal research postdoctoral training and pediatric dentistry residency. While I was there, I started applying for faculty positions and found my fit at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. It was great to be hired into a research department, so I was able to focus on getting my lab set up. Right now, I am doing about 80% research, 10% didactic education and 10% service.

What are your long-term research goals?

I’m interested in why people look different and what we can learn from that to apply to patients who need surgery to correct malformations. Right now, we treat kids with invasive surgeries, often multiple times. [I’m exploring if] there is something we can figure out or develop to make those surgeries less severe or to eliminate them completely. I have lots of different ideas on where that could go, but the long-term focus of the lab is to help those with malformations or injuries to need less surgery via bone and tissue manipulation.

What drew you to pediatrics?

I’ve always loved kids, but once I left dental school, I was pretty content with being a general dentist who treated kids. With my interests in growth and development, though, my clinical experience opened my eyes to the fact that I could do more. That’s where we see a lot of opportunity to make sure that we don’t have patients who are dental-phobic and to correct the disease that is going on. It’s much more about disease than esthetics, which has always been what’s drawn me to health care and dentistry. So for me, especially with the research we do toward growth and development issues, that led me to see that pediatric dentistry was my best choice.

What’s the hardest as well as the most rewarding part of all the roles you have?

Right now, with two young kids, sometimes it’s just sleep. I love sleep! I always got eight hours a night when I was in school, and now adding in the mom component, little kids make sleep challenging. The most rewarding part of all this is that I’m able to do things I’m passionate about. I think people see how excited I get about things and how eager I am, and I try to instill that passion into students who are part of the lab. I had high school students in the lab while I was doing my Ph.D. and undergraduates during my post-doc — students who are now in dental school themselves. [It’s rewarding to see] that excitement through others and to be able to give back and mentor.

What advice do you have for somebody who has multiple interests like you do?

Do it! Just try. I saw something the other day, it said when you see a successful person, you only see the top of the iceberg. You see what they’ve done well and where they’ve been successful. But what you don’t see is the part of the iceberg underneath the water — the hours they’ve put in, the determination, the number of times they’ve been turned down for things, etc. My CV looks nice now, but I haven’t gotten everything I’ve applied for or succeeded on the first try, and that’s OK. When you’re passionate about something, you’re going for it and you put all your energy toward it. So whatever you’re passionate about, go for it and put all your energy toward it. Keep going and learn more. Even if you need to try multiple times, don’t give up. If it’s really your passion, you’ll get there.

~Brianne Schmiegelow, Missouri-Kansas City ’21

Brianne Schmiegelow

Brianne Schmiegelow is a fourth-year student at the UMKC School of Dentistry from Lockwood, Missouri. Her favorite part of dental school has been meeting patients and giving them a chance to have a healthier smile.

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