…a conversation with Dr. Melissa Erasmus, Associate with dentalcorp
Today we shine the spotlight on Dr. Melissa Erasmus, who shares with us her thoughts on the importance of treating the whole patient and the role of mentorship in career development. Dr. Erasmus currently practices at Westport Dental in BC.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you got into dentistry?
I immigrated with my family to Canada (North Vancouver) from South Africa when I was about ten years old. I always knew I wanted to be in healthcare in some capacity. I went to UBC for my undergrad, and then shadowed several different healthcare-related professions before deciding which specific path I wanted to take. When I shadowed a dentist, that’s what really clicked with me. It encompassed so many of my interests – being able to work with your hands, having the opportunity to be creative, applying science, and getting to work with people. The fast pace and continuous problem-solving means there is never a dull moment. It really fit with what my strengths are, and with what I could see myself doing. I actually didn’t get accepted into dentistry right away, so I pursued my nursing degree at UBC and became an RN. It really helped me see patients from a different perspective, often when they were at their most vulnerable. When I reapplied to dental school and succeeded, I brought that experience with me, and I feel better able to treat patients as a whole person because of it.
Once I graduated, I went to Vancouver Island and worked under dentalcorp Partner, Dr. Bill Toews at Beaufort Family Dentistry. He taught me so much, he was a true mentor to me and still is. I left there a year and a half ago and we still talk at least once a month. Bill taught me about caring for the whole patient and seeing them as individuals, and he taught me to see dentistry as so much more the work itself, but also about caring for your staff as family. I also worked closely with Dr. Greg Gill, aspiring to be as good as he was at restorations and crowns – and to enjoy the ride!
What do you find most rewarding about practicing dentistry?
I feel privileged to be able to help people, doing something that I love. It brings me a lot of fulfillment. I like being able to make a difference in people’s lives in various ways. During Covid, I ran an Emergency clinic, so we’d see people with fractured teeth, abscesses, and other acute issues. Helping to resolve those problems and relieving people of their pain was very rewarding. But I also love inspiring confidence in patients by helping them feel better about their appearance, and by helping them feel healthy overall. Developing relationships with patients and seeing them as a whole person is very important to me. I don’t see my role as simply a practitioner but rather as an integral part of my patients’ well-being.
Can you tell me a bit about what it’s like to be an Associate with dentalcorp?
When dentalcorp and Dr. Toews partnered in 2018, the team was a bit uncertain about how we might be affected, but what I realized is that our practice philosophy never changed, but we got the support we needed to be even better. Dentistry can also be quite isolating, but we were able to collaborate with other practices, connecting us so that we could do things like borrow a CDA when needed. Joining dentalcorp was really an opportunity to come together and be a bigger voice for dentists as a whole, with an organization that really cares to do it the right way. When I moved back to Vancouver, I intentionally sought out a dentalcorp practice with the help of Corrie, our Director of Operations, I was connected with Dr. Staschuk at Westport Dental where I am now.
How has the pandemic impacted you and the practice?
I joined the practice about a year and a half ago, and then of course Covid hit. I took the initiative and implemented all our Covid protocols, working closely with the office manager to set everything up and acting as the lead practitioner since May. As a relative newcomer to the practice, I had to earn the trust of a lot of patients but it’s been going well. We added another Associate recently and that’s been a great boost to the team. Naturally, with the pandemic, the opportunities for collaboration and mentorship are fewer but dentalcorp has managed to make the most of it with the Associate Development Program and the Associate Study Club – so I enjoy taking part in those.
What kinds of changes have you seen since you got your start in dentistry?
There’s definitely been a lot of change in the last 5 years since I’ve been practicing. Some are due to Covid and adjusting to new protocols and procedures, some are due to changes in staff due to the pandemic. Some are as a result of joining dentalcorp, including some of the mentorship and continued learning opportunities. Technology is another area of constant change and improvement. We now have an iTero scanner at the practice which we’ve begun using both as a patient education tool, and to help us with procedures. And now we’re ramping up with Invisalign – another area of growth that we’re excited about and plan to accelerate in 2021.
What’s your 5-year plan?
Once we get past the current situation with Covid, I am looking forward to continuing to learn more with other dentists, and longer-term, mentoring other dentists myself. One day I would like to help teach at UBC, and I’d like to grow with dentalcorp as well. Exploring a path to partnership at my current practice of Westport Dental is something I'm very interested in. I would love to continue the great established practice that Dr. Rob Staschuk has built there.
What advice do you have for emerging dentists?
Finding good mentors is really important. There is so much to learn from someone who’s been practicing for a long time – things you really can’t learn in school. Find people that will make you a better dentist – and I’m not just talking about other dentists. Learn from your CDAs and Dental Hygienists too – they have a wealth of knowledge. They always have a trick up their sleeve so be open to their suggestions - dentistry really is all about the team working together. Become excellent at what you do before speeding up or expanding, and at the same time, be proud of everything that you’re doing. Stay connected to the dental community. Appreciate the trust that patients are putting in you and do everything you can to be worthy of that trust.