Dentist on Display: Rachel Misuraca, D13
Rachel Misuraca, D13 has wanted to become an orthodontist since she was in high school. It started when she was hired as an orthodontist’s office assistant. The experience ignited her interest in dentistry, causing her to apply to Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, her first choice among dental schools.
Now stationed with the U.S. Army, 3,000 miles away in Germany, Misuraca’s career has taken her on a journey she surely did not anticipate in high school.
Joining the US Army
Currently ranked as a Captain in the Army, Misuraca first began to consider a military career during her senior year at Suffolk University. During that time, she learned of the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). “My older brother was and is currently in the Air Force and several of my extended family have served in the military as well,” she said. “I was happy to hear that serving in the military was still very much an option for me even though I had chosen dentistry as a career.” Misuraca first spoke with an Air Force recruiter, but ultimately decided that the Army was a better fit for her. She was awarded a four-year full dental school scholarship with the Army, and was commissioned in spring 2009, shortly after she began as a student at Tufts Dental.
During her time at Tufts, Misuraca was a member of the HPSP student organization and elected co-president in her fourth year. She also completed her five-week externship at Schofield Barracks and Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. During her fourth year, Misuraca decided that she was interested in postgraduate study and applied to a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program offered by the Army.
“I chose the AEGD because there were a few procedures with which I was still not comfortable and wanted more experience,” she said.
Misuraca was also still interested in specializing in orthodontics and knew that completing the AEGD would make her a more favorable candidate.
After graduating from Tufts Dental in 2013, Misuraca was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where she began her residency program. “As a resident, I had more of a regular clinic schedule and my duties were always in the dental clinic,” she said. “It helped me expand on my general dentistry and I noticed my diagnosing and treatment planning was much easier to establish and more comprehensive than that of my colleagues who had not received that training.”
After completing residency, Misuraca realized that she really enjoyed general dentistry, but still knew nothing about the Army. “I felt sheltered in that environment, and that’s not the type of person I am,” she said.” I wanted to know the meaning behind wearing the uniform, and the best way I learn is through immersion therapy. I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone.”
The Army had her rank ten places where she wanted to be stationed; Germany was her first choice. A few months after learning that she would be heading to Germany, Misuraca learned the Army was looking to fill a position for a full-time dentist in a deployable field unit. Knowing that this was the type of experience that would make her step out of her comfort zone, Misuraca volunteered.
Stationed in Germany
Misuraca’s current role as General Dental Officer combines some of the clinical duties that she became familiar with during her AEGD experience, as well as mission-based experiences. Half of her time is spent on-base in Germany, serving the dental needs of soldiers, military family members, veterans and other individuals who have base clearance. The other half of her time is spent either in the field or preparing for a mission. Misuraca explained that it takes about two weeks before a mission to take inventory of equipment and pack the clinic so it can be transported to the mission location. After the mission, it takes another two weeks to take inventory and re-order supplies.
The challenges facing Misuraca have varied on each mission. Her first challenge, however, was learning how to run a dental clinic.
“I came into old equipment. There were years’ worth of temporary dentist and personal preference items. I had to teach my unit what it takes to run a dental clinic,” she said. “[It takes] a lot of reading on your own [and] studying time. You have to learn about [the] nuances,” she said and ultimately determine, “What’s my vision for this operation?”
An additional challenge has been serving patient populations with varying needs. Misuraca treats American service members across branches, but also treats soldiers from other nations during NATO exercises. With American soldiers, her primary concern is whether the issue presented will impact the soldier over the course of his or her deployment. If so, she would treat proactively to prevent additional problems. But the differences in oral care among nations often means that soldiers from other nations can present more complex dental issues, along with language barriers. “You have to find out what their problem is,” Misuraca said, adding that she often has to “play a little dental charades” in order to diagnose her patient.
The volume of patients can also greatly differ between missions. During a three week mission with American soldiers, she saw five patients; during a ten-day multi-nation NATO exercise, she saw 35. “If I’m treating other nations, I’m [often] preparing for extractions or starting root canals. I get to do a lot of cool things.”
Although Misuraca’s position is a General Dental Officer, she explained that as an officer in the Army, she has additional war time roles. In severe situations, she also serves as a triage officer. During one instance where a helicopter crashed, she helped direct the flow of traffic and utilized her medical skills to help soldiers. Misuraca is also weapons qualified and trained, qualifying for proficiency twice a year.
“When a soldier looks at my uniform, they see my rank, which means I have had enough time in the service to earn it, and experience to be trusted with many responsibilities,” she said. “What they do not see is that I am a dentist. Soldiers rely on Officers for mentorship and guidance, so I feel it is my duty to conduct myself [the same] as other Captains.”
Misuraca is currently planning to apply for the orthodontic residency within the Army for 2018. She has one more year in Germany and then may look for an assignment in Asia. Misuraca encourages current dental students to consider a military career, even if they have not already received a HPSP scholarship. She stated that students should speak with military recruiters, and that there are one-year, two-year and three-year scholarships, as well as direct commission after graduation.
“The Army has trained me to be resilient, to go with the flow, and to figure things out,” Misuraca said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Especially since some things that I thought I would have changed then turned into some of my greatest experiences today.”
-Marguerite M. Moore
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.