Forging relationships through Great Expectations

October 8th, 2015

Q&A with Kristina Miller, fourth-year dental student

Kristina Miller wasn’t always on the dental career track. A political science major in college, she had been in the workforce several years — as a consultant setting up medical and dental practices — when inspiration struck. By the time Miller showed up to the dental practice of family friend Dr. Kevin Seidler ’78, to shadow operations, he had three words for her: “It’s about time.”

“He knew I would be a dentist before I did,” says Miller, who enrolled at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry in fall 2012. Seidler, a mentor in the college’s Great Expectations program, had always been a role model for Miller, and now that example took on one of prime professional importance.

Miller noticed a common denominator of success through interacting with Seidler and other Great Expectations mentors: getting involved. She followed suit, joining student organizations and taking on leadership positions. President of the TAMBCD chapter of the American Student Dental Association and a member of Student Council, Miller also serves as the student board member for the Dallas County Dental Society and as the college’s representative to the Texas Dental Association.

It’s enough to keep her plate full — but not so much that she doesn’t still find time to stay active in the Great Expectations program, now as a mentor to first-year students.

Here’s more from Miller on how the program has helped her, why she chose to serve as a mentor, and her take on when strides toward exceptional patient care begin. (Hint: It’s long before students even set foot in the clinic.)

As a fourth-year dental student, you’re almost able to see the light at the end of the tunnel with graduation in the spring. Going back three years, how did Great Expectations help you?

I don’t have any dentists or physicians in my family. My sister is in physician assistant school so we are the first health care providers in our family. My parents have been so unconditionally supportive of us both as we embarked on nontraditional career paths, and we could not be where we are without them. But so many students have family members that are dentists and medical professionals in their families that act as built-in mentors. It can be overwhelming because at times you feel that since no one has been there, no one understands it firsthand. Great Expectations give you that family structure of having an uncle or big sister or brother who you can talk to about things and help mentor you through not only dental school but life as a dentist.

What made you want to stay involved in the program as a mentor?

I wouldn’t be in dental school, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t had help from others — whether it be Dr. Seidler or other professors or students — people have really helped me out. In turn, you help others just as you’ve been helped.

It’s not always what you know but who you know, and what they know. If you don’t stop and ask, you don’t learn.

We hear a lot about “putting the right foot forward” and “doing the right thing” in connection with Great Expectations. How do you do the right thing and model professionalism each day in dental school?

Really, it’s all about the patients. If you put the patients first and what’s best for them, then everything else kind of follows. So why do you go to class, why are you learning about all these new techniques, why do you take all this extra time to study during practical exams? It’s because you want to put your best foot forward and give them the best treatment you can. If you really do make an effort to put the patients first, the success and the rest follows behind that. You practice being the type of dentist you want to become.

— Arthur Upton