Watching second-year dental students walk across the stage to receive white coats - many of whom have family members in the profession - makes it easy to believe U.S. News and World Report is correct in placing dentistry as No. 1 on its “100 Best Jobs of 2017” list.
The list is made up of careers with the highest opportunity for growth in the coming years as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobs were given a score based on measurements of median salary, employment rate, 10-year growth volume, 10-year growth percentage, future job prospects, stress level and work-life balance. After analysis, dentistry scored the top ranking.
The University of Mississippi School of Dentistry's seventeenth annual white coat ceremony took place last Friday night in the UMMC Conference Center at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center. Thirty-seven students received white coats to signify their transition from the classroom to clinic-based learning. Nine of those students are following in the footsteps of a mother, father, sister, brother or cousin.
In her role as assistant dean for student affairs, Dr. Wilhelmina O'Reilly organizes milestone events for students as they progress through their training. She counts herself among the ranks of those for whom dentistry is a family affair: Her father was a dentist and her husband is a retired oral surgeon.
“My sister and I both would work in [our father's] office,” O'Reilly said. “She wanted to be a lawyer, but I liked what he did. I got to see quite a bit working in his office, and I said, 'I think I like this.'”
O'Reilly was accepted into what would have been the first class at the School of Dentistry, but when the opening of the school was delayed, she completed her studies at Howard University with a pediatrics specialty. She said the lifestyle the profession allows is what makes dentistry an attractive career.
“You can still have a life and a family,” she said. “When I was in private practice, I could drop my daughter at school in the morning and pick her up when she got out of school. I could take her on to ballet or wherever she had to go.”
Mary Caskey Ousley was coated by her father, Dr. Charles Caskey, associate professor of dentistry in the Department of Periodontics and Preventive Sciences. She knew she wanted to become a dentist after traveling with her father on a mission trip to Saltillo, Mexico, where he treated people without regular access to care.
“I got to assist and see him doing dentistry close up on those trips,” Mary said. “I think my dad has always had a passion for what he does. He loves it through and through, and he misses dentistry when he isn't doing it. He wants to practice until he is unable to do so anymore.
"I just wanted a career that I would enjoy and get the same satisfaction from. When you love what you do, it doesn't feel like work."
Mary is not the first of the four Caskey siblings to follow in her father's career footsteps. Her brother, Dr. Curtis Caskey, is a 2010 graduate of the School of Dentistry. He went on to finish a periodontic residency at Louisiana State University, where he met his wife, a general dentistry practitioner.
Curtis joined his father's practice, Mississippi Periodontics and Implants, and took over when his father joined the School of Dentistry as a full-time faculty member. Curtis also works as faculty on a part-time basis, as his father did when he and his sister were growing up.
“I have a brother who is a physician," Curtis said. "That lifestyle didn't really appeal to me as much as dentistry. Hanging around my brother, a surgeon, I saw that his lifestyle was horrible. Every day he would be at the hospital before 5 a.m. He wouldn't leave until after 8 p.m. and would be on call every other weekend. I have a sister who is a teacher, and I think she works more than all of us.”
Charles said he and his wife never counseled their children on what to be when they grew up.
“I went to Saltillo on mission trips for 17 years in a row, and they went with me," he said. "That perhaps influenced them. It's hands-on and you can do something directly for your fellow man that day.”
He said many of the students who apply for dental school were introduced to the profession through traveling with parents on dental mission trips.
“Working on the admissions committee, we do see a lot of good applicants with family in dentistry,” he said. “I think they understand the profession and want to participate. They look at it as a way to give back to the community with a good financial package and the freedom to be your own boss.”
Meredith Lucas crossed the stage last Friday night to receive her white coat from both of her parents, Dr. Melinda Lucas and Dr. Alan Lucas of Oak Grove Family Dentistry in Hattiesburg. The couple met while attending the School of Dentistry.
When in high school, Meredith was interested in nursing and dermatology. That changed after a job shadowing assignment. She shadowed her parents out of convenience, but once there, she said “it kind of sparked something.”
In her sophomore year in college, Meredith went to Honduras with her father on a mission trip. “I was his assistant for the dental clinic, and that was what sold it,” she said.
Growing up in a dental family also afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world. She's traveled to Italy, France, London and Scotland. One of her most memorable trips was to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“That was my mom's dream, and I was very lucky to go,” she said. “We had two weeks. It took us seven days to actually hike it. We summited on New Year's Day. My birthday is Jan. 2, so I wore a crown on the way back down.”
Alan said his interest in dentistry came from observing his family dentist and orthodontist participate in hobbies outside of work. He enjoys woodworking when he's not in his office.
“When I was growing up, our general dentist would invite us out to go fishing at his pond, and I liked that,” Alan said. “My orthodontist was building an airplane. I thought that was the coolest thing that he could actually do the dental aspect during the day and go home at night and have a project.”
Meredith's parents aren't the only dentists in the family. Following in their footsteps are uncles on both of her mother's and father's sides of the family. Her little sister, Elizabeth, is in her first year at the School of Dentistry.
Melinda said she is very proud of both of her daughters for pursuing dentistry.
“I look forward to one day getting to work side-by-side with each other and, hopefully, mentoring them,” she said, admitting that they mentor her. “I ask them questions all the time. 'What are they saying about this in school?' I get to pick their brains as well.
“I'm very proud. I hope that they love it as much as I do.”
Dentistry scored an 8 out of 10 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Visit the Dentistry Overview to read the full analysis.