MEET DR. MICHELLE
Dr. Michelle’s dentistry career has taken her from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again. After graduating from UCLA School of Dentistry, she moved to New York to work at a trauma center where she saw mostly emergency patients. Once she completed her residency, Dr. Michelle realized she missed being able to build relationships with her patients. So, she returned to the Golden State to focus on family dentistry. Dr. Michelle has a passion for treating kids and loves trading silly jokes with them at the office. When she’s not brightening smiles, she loves going hiking and biking on the winding trails around San Diego with her husband and friends.
Why did you become a dentist?
Growing up, I was surrounded by a hard-working, loving family. But there was a defining moment when I knew I wanted to become a dentist. You see, in high school, my dad made the extremely bold decision to quit his engineering job and follow his dream. I bet you can guess what that was — he decided to pursue dentistry. I’ll admit, I was a daddy’s girl, so naturally, I wanted to become a dentist too.
I also had an aunt who was a general dentist, and she was always helping families. Seeing the joy that helping others was bringing my family gave me the bug to want to do the same. The rest is history. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do: helping families, bringing smiles to the world, and spreading love wherever I can.
Where did you go to dental school?
I grew up in Redondo Beach in Los Angeles County California. So I didn’t want to fly too far from the nest. For my undergraduate degree, I went to the University of California, San Diego, and moved back home to finish at UCLA’s dental school. Shortly after school, I had the opportunity to do a residency in New York City. By that time, I was ready to spread my wings and take on a new experience in a new town. I worked in a hospital, spent a lot of time working one-on-one with patients, and really learned to understand their needs and concerns. From this experience, I think I realized that putting the patient first is the only way to be a trusted, loving dentist. All the technical training in the world can’t teach the feeling of making someone experience complete comfort in the chair. And that’s what I tried to provide for my patients every day.
What is your favorite part of your dental practice?
The simple answer is, I love the team. We have such an amazing, diverse, and dedicated team that it makes my work such a pleasure. And as you probably know, having a team that works together, communicates well, and understands each other is probably the single most important aspect of dental care. Providing quality dental care is not just up to the dentist. It’s a team effort from the first phone call to the follow-up, and there are so many moving parts that are behind the scenes. If there’s a lack of teamwork, the patient feels it.
At Dental Express, we have such an effortless connection on our team that we are constantly smiling, laughing, and having fun. If you’re in our office, you will almost always hear someone laughing, whether patient or staff. To have that type of work environment is a blessing.
And I think I do my fair share of adding to the laughs. You can always find me cracking a joke to lighten the mood.
What are your passions outside of dentistry?
When I’m off work, you can find me biking or running by the water with my husband. And on weekends, I’m learning to play tennis as well. I’m in love with learning new things. Mostly in the kitchen, but during quarantine, I took on a new project — I learned how to cut hair! Now, I’m not looking to change professions or anything, but I love cutting my family and friends’ hair; at least the ones who are daring enough to let me. Haha!
What do you enjoy most about working at Dental Express?
I enjoy working side-by-side with someone I look up to as a mentor — Dr. Casey. Having doctors and staff members who push me to be better and do better is a gift. I feel as if I’ve been dropped into this community of people who not only care about performance but also care deeply about growing others. In dental, this type of collaboration makes providing exceptional dental care possible. And that’s rare. Furthermore, it’s refreshing to see community instead of competition in the workplace.
Another part of Dental Express that I cherish is the space and freedom to do a variety of treatments, which is not common in dentistry. Usually, a dentist is confined to doing just specific things, yet at Dental Express we’re encouraged to do more, to learn more, and to try more. Dr. Raufy has really helped me grow in this aspect. He’s always next to me, giving me the confidence and the support to expand my knowledge and interests. I wouldn’t trade my Dental Express family for anything.
How do you help cultivate the Dental Express team?
I’m always trying to motivate my team to keep doing the best they can. We are here to serve patients and no matter what is happening in our lives, we have to give our patients the most comfortable experience possible. That means there are days when we can’t ease up, even when we have a lot on our plate. So I try to instill that motivation in the team.
I’m also always striving to teach my team something new. Just as I want to keep growing and learning, so do my team members. So if there’s a goal someone wants to reach, I attempt to be conscious of that goal and do my best to help them achieve it. Leading by example is probably the best teaching method I know. It’s how I learn and I believe it helps others too.
Lastly, everyone at Dental Express works super hard, so if there’s something I can do in my downtime to make someone else’s job easier, I’ll do it. This kind of teamwork keeps the flow moving and allows us to accomplish everything that needs to be done.
What would you say is the highlight of your career?
I would say the highlight of my career is in the last year I’ve learned to lead more, and I’m more confident leading. I feel that I’ve opened up and started to grow in a way that is great for my practice and my patients.
So that is kind of my overall highlight, but there is one experience that stands out in my memory. I had a patient who came from a rehab program and was trying to turn his life around. His teeth were not in good shape and it was holding him back in life. We did some work on his teeth, giving him a new smile he could feel confident about and that felt great. But what really made a huge impact on me was when I ran into him 12 months later at Target. He was so happy to see me and share his success. He said that shortly after having the work done at Dental Express he found a job and is doing extremely well. I can’t really describe how good that made me feel. It’s stories like these that remind me how much I love what I do.
Of Dental Express’ five core values (integrity, empathy, adaptability, collaboration, and whistle while you work) which do you feel is the most valuable to you as a dentist?
Empathy is the biggest value to me. I feel that a lot of patients just want someone to listen and hear them out. And many patients have had bad experiences, so showing empathy goes the furthest. It allows me to gain trust with a patient, showing them I’m listening and I care. I think this makes a big difference with my patients and it’s the example I want to set for others.
I’d also add that sometimes it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be sitting in the chair. We spend so much time on the other side, it’s good to remind myself what it’s like to be a patient. For me, it’s extremely important to relate to the patient, try to sense what they feel and need, and do everything I can to assist them in their appointment. Being a great dentist is all about having empathy.
What is your greatest challenge working as a dentist?
I think the biggest challenge is trying to understand my patients’ expectations. Oftentimes, it’s hard to take my opinion or experience out of the equation for just a moment. And understanding how or what the patient feels and expects is very important when providing proper care. I guess this ties into my strong belief in empathy. If I’m able to put myself in the patients’ shoes, I’m also able to speak to them in a way that makes sense and gives them the most comfort. Because at the end of the day, my goal is for every patient to walk out of our office feeling confident in the quality dental care they received. And to do that, I really need to understand their expectations upfront. I work on this aspect of my care every day.
Who is your hero?
Now that’s an easy one — my mom and dad. I admire my parents. They are the most hard-working, dedicated people I know. They also are very relaxed and calm. They don’t allow the stress of life to affect their inner peace. And for me, that’s exactly the example I want to follow. I attribute all my success as a dentist to them. They raised me well. They provided for me. And they gave me the opportunity to chase my dreams. I love my mom and dad.