How military life prepared me for private practice.

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February 2017

By Christina Pruitt, DDS

In April of 2006, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to protect and serve our country as an U.S. Air Force officer. I had a deep desire to give back but also to educate myself and pursue a career in dentistry. By accepting a scholarship for dental school, I was accomplishing both. I didn’t know then just how valuable that decision would be.

After graduating from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in May of 2010, I was promoted to the rank of Captain and headed to Maxwell AFB in Alabama for an intense 5-week Officer Training School. Learning how to live as a member of the military wasn’t an easy thing, but I came out on the other side a much stronger person both mentally and physically. Officer training taught me a lot about leadership – a valuable skill I use every day in practice and in life. 

My next move was to Offutt AFB for an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program. During the yearlong AEGD residency, I worked one-on-one with dental specialists in periodontics, oral surgery, endodontics, prosthodontics, orthodontics, oral pathology and pediatric dentistry. I also was certified to do post-mortem identification via dental records with a forensic dental team.

The next three years after my residency were spent as a general dentist at Offutt AFB. In addition to working as a dentist, I also trained for deployments and disaster response. I learned how to set up a field hospital, triage mass casualties, and wear decontamination gear and gas masks. During my last year at Offutt, I spent six months as the executive officer for the hospital commander (a true test in leadership and organizational skills!). 

One of the greatest things I took away from my experience was a great respect for the men and women who took the same oath of serving our country. It was an absolute privilege to care for our service members. I worked with aviators, linguists, engineers and security forces, among others. Many of the patients I cared for were gearing up for their third or fourth deployments – an exercise in unbelievable self-sacrifice. It was my responsibility to understand their job duties and help make sure their oral health would not be a barrier for optimal performance.

Through my experience in the USAF, I learned things in dentistry and life that I would’ve missed had I gone straight into practice after dental school. The skills I acquired while in the Air Force can’t be replicated anywhere else. It has shaped who I am as a person and a practitioner, and for that I am forever grateful.

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