A day in their scrubs

July 9th, 2015

Meet fourth-year dental student Katie Freeman.

Katie Freeman had not been working in the clinic long when she spotted something suspicious. As a third-year dental student, she had only just entered the clinical portion of her dental education and didn’t have experience on her side. But something about that spot in her patient’s mouth bothered her. No one knew what it was, initially, and Freeman made a gut decision.

“I chose to send it off for a biopsy before beginning my clinical experiences,” Freeman recalls. The choice meant waiting to treat the patient — an exercise in patience for a student who had spent the past two years training to provide dental care.

She’s glad she did, because that biopsy led to an oral cancer diagnosis, and the patient was able to receive treatment to prevent the disease from progressing.

“I chose to put the patient first,” Freeman says. “It ended up being this really ‘wow,’ convicting experience, starting in clinic and seeing something like that.

“The small decisions we make every day are a really big deal. They can make a huge difference in someone’s life, maybe even save that person’s life.”

That mindset may have played a part in Freeman’s receipt of the 2015 Kerney Laday Scholarship, a $9,000 award given to one dental student at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry each year. Among the criteria: clinical proficiency.

Ethical behavior in clinic ranks just as high to Freeman, who likens the swipe of her I.D. in Axium to her stamp of approval on any given case.

“That’s my signature, that’s what I deem permissible, that’s what I deem as standard of care,” Freeman says. “I want my signature on a case to mean something of value. It’s always interesting to see someone and think, ‘How can I help make this person walk out better than they came in?’”

Now, Freeman talks about the morale boosters that keep her going, the simple solution that made her loupes oh-so user friendly and the difference a patient’s encouraging gesture can make.

Third-year dental student Katie Freeman with patient Martha Seeber in the clinic

After receiving unexpected thank-you gifts from patient Martha Seeber, right, fourth-year dental student Katie Freeman presented flowers to Seeber at her July 9 appointment.

Hometown: Helotes, Texas

Undergrad institution: Texas A&M

Dental school survival strategy: Honestly, I think showing up every day has gotten me through the past three years. I’ve had my share of challenges, but I never let them keep me from going back to school the next day ready for more. Also, I try to keep a grateful heart and remember that I am so lucky to be here.

Favorite energy food: I really enjoy Nespresso cappuccinos and also frozen yogurt with honey.

Best way to unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: I love going with some friends to a fun restaurant on a Friday and just talking. My class is truly an amazing group of people, and I’ve made friendships here that I will have for the rest of my life. Everyone is also really funny — I think that a sense of humor helps to keep a lot in perspective.

Dental school aha moment: When I finally bought a light for my loupes … I could see so much better!

Most memorable patient care experience: When I completed my first case, the patient brought me all of these sweet gifts and cards. I literally was sitting there opening everything at the end of the appointment. It was so encouraging! One of my favorite things about being in health care is that for as much as we can help patients, they often help us just as much, if not more.

Goal after graduation: I am applying to orthodontic residencies right now, but I’m just holding the future with open hands and know that whatever is supposed to happen will. Big picture, I hope to find a good mentor in my first job and continue to learn and improve through the years. Also, I’d love to be involved in dental mission trips, both local and overseas.

What people may not know about you: I was an extra in the movie “Seven Days in Utopia.” My uncle, David Cook, actually wrote the book, and it was filmed in the Texas Hill Country near my grandparents’ ranch. I remember that they had to turn off the air conditioning in the church where we were filming, in the middle of August! But Texas heat and all, it was such a fun experience.

— Jennifer Fuentes