West Point Dentist By Day, Dental Trojan By Night
Unless you’re independently wealthy, making ends meet while pursuing your dreams can be tough. But West Point Dental Officer Alexander Heatrice has found a way—Ostrow’s online master of science degree in orofacial pain and oral medicine.
BY JOHN HOBBS
After Alexander Heatrice finishes a long day of providing dental care to cadets and officers at the United States Military Academy and then manages to barrel through the grueling physical training required of an officer, it might seem like he’d be ready to drop.
But for the 34-year-old West Point dental officer, the day’s just beginning.
With a steely resolve often reserved for military men, Heatrice heads home to his secret life—that of a student. He plugs into the Ostrow School’s new online master of science program in orofacial pain and oral medicine—a course of study he says takes up to 30 hours of his limited free time.
“I have a dream, and I have to pursue it no matter what,” explains Heatrice about why he does it. He says he spends three hours each night studying and treats each weekend day like it’s a 9-to-5 job, with his eyes glued to the computer screen.
Heatrice began his military career after getting a Health Professionals Scholarship. In exchange for the military paying for his third and fourth year at Howard University’s College of Dentistry DDS program, he had to serve four years.
“I absolutely love serving my country. It’s one of the most responsible things I’ve done so far—other than marrying my wife,” he says with a laugh.
Though most of his work is general dentistry procedures because his patient population is largely young, healthy men and women, he tries to fit in work with an oral surgeon for third-molar extractions and other procedures to expand his level of understanding.
It’s all in the name of becoming an oral surgeon, a field he has a real passion for.
Five years into his service—one year more than required—he decided to go back to school for a specialty certificate. Though the military does offer specialty courses, he figured it would be better to get a different perspective, so he chose Ostrow’s new online program.
“I chose USC because for one, it’s an awesome university and one of the most renowned schools to get an advanced degree from, and Dr. Glenn Clark [director of the master of science in orofacial pain and oral medicine program] is very known in the field,” he says. “Not many people get the opportunity to learn from him.”
The online curriculum consists of recorded lectures, regular presentations and group teleconferences with Clark and students hailing from coast to coast in the United States and even Canada.
Heatrice explains the lack of hands-on experience doesn’t bother him because, as a mid-career dentist, he doesn’t feel the need to have a professor looking over his shoulder.
He also likes that he doesn’t miss much in lectures. “If you’re going through the lecture, and you miss something, you can rewind it and actually go back to listen to it.”
And the independent learning has been academically challenging. “It’s not one of those things where it’s being given to you,” he explains. “You really have to take your knowledge and find your way.”
Just six months into the program, Heatrice explains the impact it’s already had on his day-to-day practice.
“I can actually see symptoms of certain issues that I’ve learned and apply it—not because someone told me in a continuing education session or in practice, but because I understand why I should do what I need to do.”
Heatrice highly recommends the online masters of science in orofacial pain and oral medicine to other mid-career dentists as well.
“If someone came to you and said, ‘I’m going to give you an opportunity to do something that most people may need to help them become a better provider, and I’m not going to stop you from earning your livelihood,’ would you take it?” he asks. “I think most people would say yes. I know I did.”
As for all the time he’s spending away from his wife Ackeilia? She’s been great. “She’s a dentist, so she understands what it takes to be successful,” he says. “She’s awesome for that.”
For more information on Ostrow’s online programs in either orofacial pain and oral medicine or geriatric dentistry, go here.