It was a ten minute conversation with a few prosthodontists in Hawaii that prompted Aundrea Eady, D11, DG14, to take the leap and make a bold career decision. As the president of the Tufts chapter of the Student National Dental Association (SNDA), she was in Hawaii to attend the organization’s national conference. It was her fourth year of dental school and Eady had already submitted her applications to GPR programs. She had an interest in prosthodontics as well, but was not sure she was ready to specialize immediately after graduation.
“I was just having general conversation…and the first question is always, ‘Ok so what are you going to do next?’” she said. When Eady expressed uncertainty about whether to complete a GPR or jump into specializing, the prosthodontists’ reactions were immediate. In their minds, she should specialize. “They just said go ahead and do it,” Eady said. “And that’s what I did. Just from that conversation, I came back, I pulled my application for GPR and I submitted my application for prosth.”
Living in Atlanta since 2015, Eady currently works in two private practices and plans to own her own practice in the future.
Developing an Interest in Dentistry & Prosthodontics
Eady describes her career progression as an “organic flow”. When she enrolled as a student at Spelman College, she was planning to become a physician and majored in biology. “I am the first doctor in my family; I didn’t have much guidance,” she said. “I had never even seen a doctor that looked like me.” Before college, Eady had spent eight years gaining exposure to the sciences and mechanical engineering through a program called SECME, which aims to increase diversity in STEM. While at Spelman, she attended a science-focused summer program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, still with the plan of attending medical school.
“For some reason I decided to walk over to the dental school to see what they were doing,” she said, “and it was transformative.”
Eady was able to observe a root canal and crown and realized that the dental field combined all of her interests. “This is really a blend of all of the things that I’m interested in,” she said. “The mechanical engineering – there’s so many little parts and gadgets that need to come together for this to work – and then the artistry of it.”. She also found the prospect of owning her own business intriguing. “It was just all of the things that I like to do coming together,” she said.
Additional summer programs during the following years cemented her interest in dentistry. And at the advice of her mentor from one such program, Eady applied to dental school at Tufts.
Eady’s interest in prosthodontics stemmed from her clinical rotations a few years later. “When I was a dental student, I happened across these ‘larger cases,’ where I did 6 crowns and 2 dentures all on the same patient,” she said. “Which is pretty involved, especially as a dental student who has only been practicing dentistry for about 2 months. And it was my prosth instructor who really guided me, who had answers to my questions, [and] who I felt thought more comprehensively and analytically whenever we were working on cases.” The combination of these experiences and the influence of prosthodontic faculty members, including Jose Segura, associate clinical professor, and Tae-Ho Yoon, former assistant professor, led to her interest in prosthodontics, and eventually to her postgraduate residency at Tufts.
Describing it as “the most difficult three years of my academic career,” Eady would regularly work 10 hour days in the clinic and then complete lab work in the evening. “My prosth training didn’t teach me how to cut a crown,” she said. “You learn that in dental school. But my prosth training taught me how to approach it in a different manner when you can’t just put it back the way it came in. When you have to do something outside of the box, that’s what our prosth training taught me. To think comprehensively and just in a different, enlightened way to approach a situation.”
Moving to Atlanta
After graduating with her certificate in prosthodontics, Eady taught part-time in the dental school’s predoctoral clinic as a practice coordinator and worked part-time in Quincy. She returned to Atlanta in July 2015.
As Eady learned first-hand, not all promising job opportunities work out. When she initially moved to Atlanta, she accepted a full-time position as a prosthodontist at a practice.
“When I got down here and started working, I realized that it was a completely different situation,” she said. Eady found that the practice did not have enough patients to support her and that most patients were unable to afford treatment. Since she was only paid based on a percentage of the work performed, there were limited opportunities for income. She advised students to consider the compensation structure before accepting a position.
“As a dentist, you get paid either on a daily rate or a percentage of your work,” she said. ”As a young dentist, unequivocally, or even as a dentist starting at a practice, you have to be compensated on a daily rate.”
The practice was unable to provide enough patients for her even after she reduced her days and began working at another office. After six weeks, she resigned.
Working in Atlanta
Eady now practices at two locations: at Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta and Progressive Dental Group.
At Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta, there are six operatories. The staff consists of Eady, two front desk staff members, two assistants, the owner/doctor and another associate. In addition to checking hygiene patients, she performs advanced prosthodontics work. She typically sees four patients a day and works two days a week.
At Progressive Dental Group, a general dentistry office with six operatories, she works three days a week alongside Dr. Alda Underwood-Hall. While Eady mentioned that her working day can be longer to accommodate working patients, she still normally sees only eight patients a day.
“Our motto in this office is ‘warm smiles transforming smiles’ so my boss, who’s also a Black woman, has known her patients for 25-30 years,” Eady said. “Literally the average patient of hers has been a patient for 19 years which is amazing. So we’ll sit and talk and laugh while we’re of course doing dental work. We really pride ourselves in not having a mill,” she said. “We don’t want to double [or] triple book patients and then the doctor’s popping in, popping out, and you’re waiting for an hour- we’re not doing that. So we’ll see fewer patients than a conventional general practice but that’s just how we like to operate.”
Eady describes her relationship with Underwood-Hall as that of “kindred spirits”.
“It certainly was refreshing to see someone [practice] for so long who looks like me, who talks like me, who walks like me—that was amazing. So there was this level of respect and reverence that I had for her”.
In addition to treating patients, Eady has also taken on some of the administrative duties of the office, a learning experience which has enhanced her team management skills.
“Some of the things I’ve learned over the year is to respect people’s opinions and allow them to contribute in a significant way,” she said. “People always want to feel like they’re helping, like they’re moving things along…because when you get a good team going, all those other things come together. You get help learning processes and creating processes together. But you have to realize it’s not a one man show.”
The collaboration also has the potential for Eady to expand her role. “The way it started, she asked me what I see myself doing in 5 years and I said I wanted to be a practice owner,” Eady said. “She said great, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time so I’m willing to give up the reins’. So that’s kind of how it started and it just has grown,” she said.
Advice to Dental Students
In addition to understanding compensation structure, Eady advises that recent graduates work at more than one practice. “I know it’s difficult because you have to really coordinate and make sure things are done properly…but not only is it beneficial in my opinion to see multiple ways that people practice, but it also lessens the burden on the actual owner/doctor because they don’t have to keep you busy for 5 days,” she said. Ultimately, Eady recommends that that students choose carefully when evaluating job prospects. “An ideal situation is to work well with someone who’s a little more seasoned and who can guide you, she said “Choose slowly- don’t jump into too many things. Take your time and do your research. Know your values. At the end of the day, you have to make sure to do a good job.”
-Marguerite M. Moore
Dentist on Display is a monthly series spotlighting young Tufts Dental alumni doing extraordinary work around the globe. If you are interested in nominating a recent TUSDM alum, please contact Marguerite Moore, Assistant Director of Student Affairs and Career Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Dentist on Display archive here.