Behind the Smile: UTSD Connects Through Storytelling

Behind the Smile: UTSD Connects Through Storytelling


Behind the Smile UTSD Houston Connects Through Storytelling I was allergic to resin; I was allergic
to certain solvents; I was allergic to acrylics; I was basically allergic to
everything in dentistry. I was in dental school and allergic to a career I hadn’t even
started yet. UTSD Houston uses storytelling to connect our community. We call this “narrative dentistry.” We don’t get clinician burnout because
we are practicing dentistry or medicine, nursing or dental hygiene. No, we get
clinician burnout because while we are practicing our craft, we are also trying
to figure out our personal lives and our professional lives and that sometimes
can be very overwhelming, and this is what tonight is about. When I met Mrs. A in urgent care, I gained not only a new patient, but an angel. She arrived to all of her appointments early, toting a broken smile and an untarnished spirit. My brother and I, we were baby boomers and we grew up in the 50s and I guess Dickens summed it up best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” “A time of wisdom and a time of foolishness” Well, we were the ones involved in the foolishness. My dad was murdered. This isn’t something that I say out loud very often. Sometimes it’s hard for me to even admit
it to myself. Well, he said, and I knew what was coming. I got the sample I
needed, and I looked, and I looked, but all I saw were harmless fat cells. I wasn’t
sure what I just heard, but then a little smile came over his face. “Have a nice
weekend!” The idea for “Behind the Smile” started when I received this very
authentic email from a student asking me to help their class stay positive
so that they could successfully finish and keep going. We’re giving people a
platform to share what they want to share. A lot of the stories that were
shared were clinical, a lot of them were not. A lot of them were
about people’s backgrounds growing up and a lot were about specific encounters
that they’d had in the field of Dentistry. So, when they came to me with
this idea I was blown away by it and it was how fast can we do this. The thing
that’s made this program different, first of all, we’re the first dental school to
do this and in looking at some of the other medical schools that have done
this theirs is of a strictly clinical focus,
whereas we wanted to be very inclusive. I think the original estimate on the first
one we did was maybe 20 to 30 people would show and we had 200-250 people, and
we were turning people away. All the reactions were positive. Everybody was
surprised that a program this close to heart existed at the dental school. You know we learned a lot of technical skills, but, I mean, there’s a lot to be
said for the relationships and that’s truly what changes who you are and how
you practice as a whole. Being able to connect with the audience is so
important and just explaining to people that we’re not simply dental robots or
medical robots, but rather, we have our own unique experiences and attritubes that bring our own abilities to the table. This event is really providing a very, very, very safe place for students, faculty, staff to share their experiences, their emotions. There were moments when you’d have
a few tears in your eyes and then the next presenter you would be laughing.
There was a lot of empathy on my part when they were telling the stories
because I felt like I had lived that same story at sometime during my
career. The “Behind the Smile” gave us the opportunity to really put into practice
the things that we believe our students, our faculty, our staff need everyday in
what they do, in interacting with each other and interacting with patients to
to combat the tendencies of burnout that is so prevalent in health professions
education. Dental school’s been this time where I’ve met all kinds of different
people that maybe have different world views than me, and so listening is it at
least the first step in understanding someone else and
kind of building that bridge to be able to communicate effectively and
effectively care for somebody. Do I think I’ll have a story to tell? I don’t know,
maybe, we’ll see.

Author: Kevin Mason

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