A day in their scrubs

October 22nd, 2015

D4 Anika Rodgers with her car and a motorcycle helmetMeet Anika Rodgers, fourth-year dental student

The D.D.S/Ph.D. program at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry is a viable option for prospective dental students eager to dive into the academic research realm. What isn’t altogether common, however, is a student who opts to pursue the doctoral degree before undertaking dental school course work.

Then again, fourth-year dental student Anika Rodgers isn’t exactly common.

While an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University, a biological research opportunity fueled Rodgers’ passion for this field. So much so, that after graduation, she moved east to the University of Kentucky, where she pursued a master’s degree in biology while teaching undergraduate courses and conducting biomedical research.

“The more I read, shadowed professionals and understood dentistry, the more I realized that I wanted to pursue this field,” says Rodgers. “Dentistry represented a natural synthesis of my interests in biological research and my love of people.”

With that realization, she applied to the seven-year dual degree program at TAMBCD in the lab of Dr. Jerry Feng, biomedical sciences professor. In May 2014, she was awarded her doctorate in biomedical sciences, gleaning national awards along the way, including the coveted Hatton Award, a designation bestowed by the American Association for Dental Research.

So why frontload her Ph.D. training?

“It made more sense,” Rodgers says. “It allowed me to gain a stronger understanding of my research instead of switching back and forth between two disciplines.”

Now, Rodgers shares more about the moment she realized people’s ears don’t stretch as much as “sim” man’s, her very ‘patient’ patient and her inner “Speed Racer” — yes, this dental student also races her car. Did we mention she off-roads her dual sport motorcycle, too?

Hometown: I was born and raised in Shoreham, which is near Brighton, England.

Undergrad institution: Texas A&M University, College Station … Whoop!

Dental school survival strategy: One hundred percent, do not get behind. It has been important to make sure to stay up to date with classes and material because during the first, second and third years, the amount of exams was intense at times, and there were many late-night study sessions.

Favorite energy food: I hate to admit it, but Dr Pepper. It’s more of a habit than an energy food, but I guess the caffeine still does something.

Best way to unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: I enjoy going out to eat with my husband, Tyler, and then coming home and relaxing on the couch with a good movie. I also enjoy long walks with my Siberian husky puppy, Rocket.

Dental school aha moment: When I finally got to the clinic and realized that everything I had been learning in Sim Lab was finally coming to life! It was disappointing to realize that I couldn’t stretch my patients’ cheeks over their ears to keep the cheeks out of the way like I would do with my “sim” head, but things seem much easier now.

Best patient care experience: I have two special dental memories. The first is working on my dad. He has been the absolute best patient! He is an extremely ‘patient’ patient, and I did my very first crown progress exam on him. He kept me calm throughout and encouraged me. He makes me laugh continuously through our appointments, and I really enjoy our dental experiences together.

The second was delivering my first set of dentures to an elderly man who was so very grateful to finally have teeth again. He was functioning on teeth that were extremely worn and broken down and couldn’t even remember what his teeth looked like when he was younger. When I delivered the dentures he smiled so big and said that he had never felt so happy. It was a very rewarding experience!

Goal after graduation: My goal is to pursue an orthodontic residency, followed by a fellowship in craniofacial orthodontics, during which I will specialize in treating patients with craniofacial abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate. I am excited to combine my research experience in the areas of osteogenesis, tooth development, and craniofacial growth and development, together with my love for clinical patient care. After my residency, I hope to be able to give back through academia by sharing my knowledge and training with others who are equally determined to make a difference in patients’ lives through orthodontics.

What people may not know about you: I have always loved speed and anything fast, and my husband and I like to own different and unique vehicles, either fast or for off-roading. We compete in Texas SCCA — Sports Car Club of America — autocross racing, and I hope to complete my first road-course track day (time-trials racing) in the near future.

— Jennifer Fuentes