Tanner first became interested in research while attending Utah State University for his undergraduate studies. While Utah State had ample opportunities for research, Tanner explains it was not exactly a priority for undergraduates. Despite this, Tanner decided to major in biochemistry and joined a lab researching symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria. So how exactly did Tanner go from researching bacteria to wanting to become a dentist? He was, in fact, initially interested in dentistry but along the way discovered he loved science and research and was not willing to compromise either of them. “The professor I worked with encouraged creativity and let me explore on my own,” says Tanner. “This made research and discovery enjoyable since I really owned my research experience! Because of this, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in combination with dental training.”
The question that must now be on everyone’s mind is how long does it take to complete both a DMD and a Ph.D.? So far, Tanner has spent 3 years in the UAB Graduate of Biomedical Science Ph.D. program working on his dissertation. Tanner explained “the first year consists of lab rotations and selection, basic science coursework, and developing a project. Since then I have spent most of my time working on that project. Currently, I have a few small experiments and dissertation writing to complete my Ph.D.” For his dissertation, he has been studying how changes in DNA packaging and organization in stem cells affects differentiation to osteoblasts. His work is very important for understanding potential causes and solutions for bone diseases like osteoporosis.
Tanner just started dental school this year and will graduate with the class of 2022. However, Tanner interviewed three years ago with the class of 2019, the current D4s that will graduate in May. He interviewed with the intent of taking more time to pursue his Ph.D. first before starting any dental school training. “When I interviewed, I was aware that I wouldn't be joining a class for a number of years,” explains Tanner. “Other programs are set up different, but UAB sticks with Ph.D. first!” If you are a D4 reading this, it must be hard to believe that you were accepted to UAB almost three years ago. Imagine getting accepted and waiting three years to even begin dental school!
Tanner is a very hard worker but he has not earned the title of Dr. just yet. He says “I will complete my remaining work for my dissertation during my dental school training and breaks!” It takes a lot of perseverance to be willing to sacrifice time away from family and friends in the pursuit of two very challenging degrees. Tanner is clearly very passionate about his work but also explains that maintaining a healthy life-work balance has been crucial to his success. “I am creative with my time,” says Tanner. “I come in early or work with my mice during lunch or after class. I rarely come in on weekends so I can spend time with my wife and kids! I try to make good use of my class time to get as much of the material down as I can, then I study in the evenings and early mornings. Just make sure to keep a healthy balance, it goes a long way toward maintaining productivity!”
Getting involved with research is a great way to enhance your dental school experience. While it may seem daunting to add a huge research project on top of all the classes we have to take, Tanner says it is possible! His best piece of advice is “finding the right lab and project is really important. You need to be interested and care about what you are doing to make it work.”
When he graduates, Tanner would like to stay in academics so he can spend most of his time doing research. He says “Ideally, I would like to work in a faculty practice in a dental school several days a week then spend the rest of my time doing research.”
Currently, he is the president-elect of the National Student Research Group of the American Association for Dental Research. He is clearly very involved with the greater research community and says he would love to answer any questions people may have about research, finding labs or projects, or how to get involved in other ways! We are very fortunate to have him as a classmate and future colleague and wish him the best with his research endeavors.
Author: Kelsey Gwin, Class of 2021
Most dentists will agree that having good dental hygienists is a very important factor in establishing a successful dental practice. They see most of our patients more often than we do! Lisa says her favorite part about being a dental hygienist was the relationships she was able to form with her patients. “It was so rewarding knowing that every day I could make a positive impact on overall community health one person at a time,” explains Lisa. “There was not a day that went by that I didn’t feel like I had helped someone in some way and to me that is one of the most important goals to achieve in any health profession.”
Although Lisa loved being a dental hygienist, she realized she could do so much more to help her patients if she became a dentist. She recalls one specific patient who made a big influence on her decision to go to dental school; “I will never forget I had one patient who was so embarrassed to smile because she had never had her teeth cleaned. After her appointment, she starting crying and hugged me because she was so happy her teeth looked better. This moment really impacted me because I realized as a dentist I could do so much more for other patients like her. I realized I could not only improve oral hygiene and oral health but I could also help restore function and aesthetics to patients who needed it.”
Going to hygiene school before dental school certainly gave Lisa an advantage when it came to many aspects of dental school. Her program was great in that she had local anesthesia and nitrous oxide training, something dental students do on a daily basis once they get in clinic. She also mentioned that her dental hygiene training “has helped a lot with just the general knowledge of dental materials, assisting, dental anatomy, instrumentation and working with patients. Overall, I am really thankful I have had the opportunity to work as a dental hygienist and assistant prior to entering dental school.”
We asked Lisa if she had any advice for someone like her who isn’t quite sure what path in the dental field they want to take. Her best piece of advice is to do a lot of job shadowing at varying dental practices. “Each dental practice is different,” says Lisa, “and shadowing at various practices helps you get a better feel for what profession may be the most appealing to you. When trying to decide on a career path decide what is most important to you as career goals and choose a profession that best reflects those goals.”
It is always awesome to learn about the backgrounds of the students at UAB SOD. We all have different stories of what brought us to dental school and we thank Lisa for sharing her story with us this week!
Author: Kelsey Gwin, Class of 2021
The first Committee of the Month this new school year is our New Member Outreach team! Viviana Sepulveda and Danielle Ho planned an amazing Welcome Week last month for the new D1 class. There was a full week of fun programs to welcome everyone back to school, including yoga night, a lunch and learn, and our annual trivia night. Thank you for all your hard work!