A day in their scrubs

September 2nd, 2015

Meet third-year dental student James Browning.

James Browning in the Baylor Health Sciences LibraryWhen James Browning started his undergraduate coursework at Texas A&M University-Commerce, he opted for the biology track in preparation for a career in the health sciences. He considered fields like physical therapy and anesthesiology, but dentistry was completely off the radar. It never even entered his mind. He changed majors to computer science, a hobby at the time. That hobby led to bachelor’s and master’s degrees and an 11-year career embedding software for fiber optic communication systems, building medical device prototypes and designing automated software frameworks.

Browning enjoyed the opportunities for creativity and problem solving, but he wasn’t fulfilled. When an old friend, Dr. Jon McClure ’08, moved back to Dallas to pursue a pediatric dentistry residency at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, the two got to talking.

“He loved his job, and I wanted to learn more and more about it. I finally realized that this was what I was looking for all along,” says Browning. “Dentistry, which is a blend of art and science and a profession where you work with your hands, was the perfect match for me, and I decided I had to pursue it.”

With the support of his family — wife Sue and 5-year-old son Jameson — Browning worked full time as a software engineer while taking the prerequisite courses needed to apply to dental school.

Upon enrolling at TAMBCD in fall 2013, Browning experienced another change, albeit slightly less life altering: his name. “I went by ‘Ace’ my whole life before dental school,” says Browning, whose father, a recreational pilot and aircraft enthusiast, suggested the moniker, an ode to the flying aces. From the week he was born to the week he started dental school, Browning went by this alias given to him by his dad. Even without it, it’s all blue skies for this adventurer.

“I am so happy to be in dental school; it is already fulfilling in so many ways. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he says. “This is exactly where I should be.”

Here’s more from James, aka “Ace” Browning.

Hometown: Allen, Texas

Undergrad institution: Texas A&M University-Commerce — B.S. in Computer Science

Graduate institution: The University of Texas at Dallas — M.S. in Software Engineering

Dental school survival strategy: Realize that there is much to learn in dental school outside of the classroom. Dental school will force students to learn how to deal with difficulties, frustrations, failures and disappointments. I believe important lessons can be learned from any situation — especially a bad one. The key to survival is to analyze situations and determine how you can adapt and do better next time.

Favorite energy food: steak

Best way to unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: I like to listen to audiobooks during my drive home. Then I like to spend the evenings with my family.

Dental school aha moment: Dental school is filled with eye-opening experiences. The levels of detail and precision that are required in most dental procedures are more complex than I expected. I’ve always worked with my hands, and I expected that the hand skills part of dentistry would come easy to me. It took — and continues to take — more work than I anticipated to produce “ideal” preparations and restorations.

Best patient care experience: Delivering my first set of complete dentures was a very rewarding experience. The patient’s personality changed overnight. When she came back for her 24-hour recall, her hair was done and she had makeup on, and she was so much more outgoing and talkative. She told me about the first thing she ate with her new teeth and she said, “Thank you for taking care of me.” It made all the hours and late nights in the lab worth it.

Goal after graduation: Right now I am quite passionate about doing general dentistry. I’d like to work as an associate under the guidance of a good mentor for a year or two, and then maybe open my own practice in a small town northeast of the metroplex. I’d like to resume my hobbies in motor sports once I have the means. I also plan to take evening classes in drawing and photography, and I want to do a good deal of traveling with my family.

What people may not know about you: My first job ever was in a library putting up books, so I’ve always liked libraries of the old, European style, with the dark wood – just that environment. I love old books; they’re more artistic, more crafted than modern ones. There are a lot of really interesting old dental books in our library. I asked for permission to photograph them, on the terms that I also gave the library my pictures. I just love that old hand-drawn style and how the covers of the books have gilded leather. There are some really old, rare books in our library that I haven’t yet been able to see.

Baylor Health Sciences Library book titles

Some of the textbooks D3 James Browning has photographed in the Baylor Health Sciences library


— Jennifer Fuentes