Please provide a summary of your musical training and dental career. Are you currently active as a performer?
AC: I began my harp studies at age 10 and prior to that I studied piano. For my undergraduate studies, I started out in the Life Sciences program at McGill before switching into their music program. McGill didn’t have any harp students at the time, and during my second year in science, I had several friends from my time in the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra who were in the music program and encouraged me to play in an ensemble with them. After getting the chance to perform again, I decided to audition and switched into the music program. Organic chemistry was also a huge deterrent to continuing in the sciences! After McGill, I attended the University of Toronto for a graduate degree in Harp Performance.
Moving from music to dental surgery is a huge leap, what motivated you to move from music to dentistry?
AC: had pictured being an orchestral harpist but as I was completing my graduate studies at UofT, I noticed there weren’t any orchestral harp opportunities available. I didn’t want to freelance forever while waiting for an orchestral job to become available, so I started exploring other possible careers. Also, I had always had an interest in healthcare, and dentistry seemed it could offer a stable career with flexible hours with the opportunity to remain involved in music. Also, dentistry seemed like a somewhat artistic field since fixing teeth was like working with mini sculptures in the mouth.
How long did it take you between completing your dental studies and establishing your own practice? Did you work for another clinic prior to establishing your own practice? Why or why not?
AC: It took me awhile before I owned my own clinic. In dental school, students were told that there was an oversupply of dentists in metropolitan areas. After I graduated from dental school, I worked in Toronto for a couple months in a few clinics. However, going from clinic to clinic made it difficult to establish a steady client base and establish relationships with patients which was important to me.
A few months later, I moved to Ottawa for a better job where I could work out of one clinic only. I stayed in Ottawa for 2 years before moving back to Vancouver where, again, I had to look for work at a couple different offices for different days. I ended up working at 2 offices where, in addition to treating patients, I had to take care of some of the managerial and administrative duties in order to help make the offices run smoother. Eventually, I realized that since I was taking on managerial responsibilities, I would be better off establishing my own office where I would be able to fully implement my ideas and approach to dentistry. So that is how I came to opening my own clinic, Dolce Dental.
Do you feel your musical training has impacted your approach to dentistry and owning your own business?
AC: The soft skills from music helped me throughout dental school and into my career as a dentist. Music helped me become more detail oriented through score study. This translated into me being picky about the quality of work and service I deliver. The musician part of me also means that I am constantly looking for ways to improve. Additionally, as a performer, I have to be ready to react quickly and calmly to unexpected elements of a performance. We don’t want our audience to feel stress and it’s the same thing with my patients. I want to project calmness and confidence when responding to unforeseen circumstances so that my patients know they’re going to be taken care of! You can stress inside but always be calm outside.
When I was studying to become a dentist, some instructors were quite direct with their critique. The experience of taking lessons and performing in masterclasses helped me approach the criticism objectively and not take it so personally. There are always areas for improvement in both music and in a clinical setting, so always be open to feedback.
What advice would you provide to musicians who are looking to switch careers or undertake their own entrepreneurial pursuits?
AC: Don’t get stuck as a musician in a practice room. Explore interests outside of the practice room. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing your job or giving up on music when you pursue your other interests. Your experiences outside of the music bubble can bring new ideas and perspectives to when you’re playing. If you get stressed out easily on stage and worry about messing up, go out into the world and see what else is happening. For me, learning about my patients and some of their difficult life experiences helps me put things into perspective and know that messing up one note is not going to be the end of the world.
Lastly, don’t let negative external opinions deter you from pursuing your business and extramusical pursuits. After getting my Masters in Music, I didn’t pursue a career as a freelance harpist because for me it lacked day-to-day certainty and didn’t give me a clear sense of purpose. I needed something to focus on beyond practicing for auditions which were also non-existent at that time. It wasn’t a popular choice because I had spent my undergraduate and graduate studies learning music and it looked like I was giving up on the harp. If I had listened to the negativity, I would not be here now operating my own dental office while still being an active harpist. Music students, you are smart, you can do it!
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This interview summary was written by Andrew Chan, master's student in Viola Performance