…a conversation with Dr. Aness Assafeen, Associate with dentalcorp
Today we shine the spotlight on Dr. Aness Assafeen and his remarkable journey from war-torn Syria to a successful career as a dentist in Canada. Dr. Assafeen currently practices with Dr Comeau, Principal Partner, at Southwest Dental in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you got into dentistry?
I originally wanted to be an architect, where I would be able to use my hands to design and create. My mother was a GP back in Syria, and my parents wanted me to follow in her footsteps and become a physician, to take over eventually for the “family business”. Syrian culture is highly focused on family, placing a lot of value on support systems – emotional, financial, and social. As was expected of me, I enrolled in medical school. Unbeknownst to my parents, I switched to dental school after just four weeks. In my view, it was a compromise – dentistry was still a medical profession but had a design element that satisfied my need for creativity. Though they were not thrilled, they were not completely unhappy when they found out.
Tell me about your journey from Syria to Nova Scotia?
I left Syria in 2015 because of the war, and also to pursue my ambition to become a successful dentist. I moved to Lebanon, and from there made the journey to Canada, sponsored by my extended family in Toronto. My uncle is a physician there, along with many cousins. I arrived, and worked hard towards achieving my qualifications, studying alongside my brother. I worked as a dental assistant to get by while we studied. We finished together, and in 2019 successfully passed the exams. One of my friends was with dentalcorp and recommended I apply. I’m glad I did. Soon after, I had an interview with Dr Comeau. I made the move and haven’t looked back. Working within the dentalcorp Practice Community provides me with learning opportunities, resources, and connections to colleagues that are invaluable.
What was it like to come to Canada? How did you handle the shift in culture and change in environment?
When I came to the East Coast and joined Dr Comeau’s team, I lived at his house for more than a month. He’s a very interesting man, both professionally and in general. He’s my mentor in dentistry but also on a personal level. He really helped me acclimatize to my new role, but also to my new environment and culture. He took me golfing a lot – I think ten times last summer. I’m not sure it helped my game as I don’t believe the ball went into the hole much but it was a great experience. He also introduced me to canoeing, and to the community. I attended yoga which was completely foreign to me and really took me out of my comfort zone. As a single guy new to the area, the connections he helped me make with my new world were invaluable.
What do you find most rewarding about practicing dentistry?
Solving problems is very rewarding, and even more so is seeing how solving those problems delivers patient satisfaction. When I see that my patients are happy with the solutions I’m providing, that makes me happy. I am really enjoying my career with dentalcorp, and I’ve found the process of getting here – seeing all my efforts pay off – also very rewarding.
What sort of challenges do you face as an Associate at your practice?
Before coming to Canada, I had only done a 1-year residency after graduating from dental school. Then I went through my Canadian qualifications and passed the exams in 2019. It’s challenging to move beyond the theoretical and to successfully apply what I’ve learned to real case patient scenarios: people with disabilities, with chewing pain, and with ailments yet to be diagnosed. It’s challenging and rewarding to identify and solve these problems. My goal is to give patients what they expect and more, and dentalcorp helps me stay up to date with continuing education and always thinking outside the box.
What are you most proud of? And what do you want to accomplish next?
What I’m most proud of is that I have become a dentist in Canada at only 29 years old, and being at this practice specifically, and surrounded by a great team. Being part of dentalcorp – it’s like being part of a big family. I’m lucky enough to be part of the Associate Excellence Program, which is a great opportunity to get more experience, make more connections, and gives me what I need to be able to plan where I want to take my career in the future. Being part of this program means I get to explore different options, different areas of dentistry, like surgery, extractions, orthodontics, and occlusion.
What advice do you have for emerging dentists?
Work hard at school – that’s a given. But remember that graduation is not the final destination. You have to work to stay up to date so that you can continue to excel in this field. Getting your license to practice is an incredible accomplishment but it’s just a starting point. Always plan for the future and give your best. If you do that, the world is open to you and the opportunities are limitless.