U.S. Navy Dentist – Lieutenant Commander Heather Gnau

U.S. Navy Dentist – Lieutenant Commander Heather Gnau

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My name is Lieutenant Commander Heather Gnau. I am currently stationed at Bethesda, Maryland. I’m a second year endodontic resident specializing in root canal treatment. I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky, and I did my dental education at the University of Louisville. Currently I’m in a two-year endodontic residency program at Bethesda, Maryland. I chose dentistry as a profession because I wanted something that was health related – I want to have something where I have patients um that I can affect their health and help them out. Um I started working in a dental office as an assistant as one of my part time jobs after college, and I realized that, that has everything I’m looking for. I was like, you know what, this – this seems like something that – that I would enjoy. In the Navy um we do have the post-graduate dental school in Bethesda, Maryland that offers um dental specialty training in most of the specialties. If the specialty training is not offered at Bethesda, the Navy will send you to an out-service program which means they’ll send you to a civilian school so you can get that ah specialty training. In the Navy, the Health Services Collegiate Program enabled me to not only earn vacation or leave days while I was still in dental school, but they also gave me a small stipend to help – help offset some of the expenses related to dental school. It also gave me time toward retirement which means when I retire at my 20 years, the time that I spent in dental actually makes my retirement pay 22 years. It was also really nice that once I graduated, I already had 45 days of – of leave or vacation um on the books ready to be used if I would need it. When you graduate dental school, you have up to a year to receive your, your board certification, or pass your board. Um during that year with the Navy you can still um continue to practice dentistry while you’re signing up for your boards and passing them. You could easily have to spend 60 to $200,000 for a four-year dental degree. There are different Navy programs out there that will pay either full – in other words, they will pay everything, a full four-year scholarship program, or there’s other one, two, three-year programs, scholarship programs that are available through the Navy. If you decide that um after you’ve graduated dental school and you’ve paid it all by yourself that you want to join the Navy, you can join the Navy, then sign up for something called the Loan Repayment Program, where in turn, the Navy will then pay back part of your student loans for you. My first year out of dental school I signed up for an AEGD program – that stands for Advanced Education and General Dentistry. So my first year was spent um working with different specialties, in each of the specialties getting further education – just kind of expanding my exposure with different specialties so you have rotations – in the root canals or endodontists you have a rotation with the oral surgeon taking out teeth, you work with prosthodontist one on one on how to do some of the more complex cases. Um so that gives you not only the confidence, but also the knowledge that you need. After I finished my advanced education in general dentistry, I volunteered to go on a MEU, which stands for Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment. We went throughout the Mediterranean – stopping at different countries helping um train their country’s military services. Um as part of this deployment with the Navy I also had the chance to do mini-DEN caps. A DEN cap is a Dental Civilian Assistance Program. When we were in Kosovo, we would go out to different villages and set up um a miniature dental clinic. I was able to help people that were in a country that was in conflict. I would see people that had been in pain for – for a little bit of time and um they were very welcoming for us to come in and be able to help them out. The Navy is a – is a strong supporter in enabling us as medical health providers to give back to people. Being able to – to look at these people and the conditions they live in and realizing by me being there and helping them out I have definitely made their quality of life better and personally for me it was an amazing experience. When I returned um from my MEU deployment, I was transferred to a satellite clinic, which means I was um given the opportunity to have my own dental clinic where I was the only dental provider. I had a hygienist that worked with me and some dental technicians. This enabled me to um experience what it would be like, you know, if I would ever leave the Navy and run a dental practice. In the Navy they strongly encourage you to have exposure to all the disciplines. Um having rotations, three to four month rotations, with all the specialties especially when you’re straight from school, is something that they stress and they encourage. When you’re deployed, you may be by yourself and you’ll have many cases come in and they want you to be able to handle them. Navy dentistry offers many um advantages or benefits over civilian dental program. One of the main ones is I have a group practice. I’m practicing dentistry with um at least ten to twenty or thirty dentists in the same clinic. We get to share ah experiences, give input to each other. Um it’s very nice to have a colleague that if you have a question or concern, you can walk down the hall to just about any specialist um that you need to get a consult. The Navy is very interested in continuing education. Um they will send you at least once a year to a location that you can take a weeklong course. The biggest benefit that I see with the Navy program over the civilian program is the Navy program has three board certified endodontists that are dedicated just to us to complete our residency successfully. There’s nine residents. There’s three board certified endodontists. That’s a ratio that you’re never going to find in a civilian program. Navy dentistry tries to provide you with the latest developments in technologies that’s out there. As an endodontist in the Navy, whatever clinic I go to I’m going to have the microscope available, I’m going to have digital radiography and all of the um up-to-date equipment that I may desire. We have the microscopes in every room. We have the monitors in every room. We have access to ordering different supplies, different systems that we want to try out, because they want us to get the best training possible so we can then go out into the fleet and serve our Navy personnel. With the Navy, the only thing I’m worrying about is learning my skill, and that is my job. With the Navy, when you go on leave, I’m still getting my full salary. I still get all of my benefits, all of my pay. With the Navy, it’s a huge family – they’re always looking out for you. If you’re having a bad day, or there’s something going on and you need the extra support, there’s always someone there that’s willing and wanting to help you out. In the Navy, if you are interested in dentistry, you know, you don’t have to have a degree. Um our enlisted technicians work side by side with us on a daily basis in order to provide – provide care. Without our Navy enlisted, you know, I can’t do my job to the best of my ability because I depend on my chair side technician to help me every step of the way um and without them I’m not the best that I could be. The Navy has been the right choice for me. Um professionally it has molded me into the dentist that I’ve always wanted to be. It has given me a chance to um complete my specialty training as an endodontist. And it also has given me many opportunities to travel to foreign countries and to give back and do some humanitarian missions. It has made me grown as a person. It has given me leadership opportunities. It has encouraged teamwork. It has basically made me the professional person today that I am, and I like that person.

6 thoughts on “U.S. Navy Dentist – Lieutenant Commander Heather Gnau”

  1. haha that mite be true, i remember talking to many of the navy recruits at meps and when i told them i was joining the army, they all said something similar to "dam, your gonna be in the front lines" lol sorta freaked me out

  2. Great job! I admire you for both serving your country and for serving your patients. It must be nice working with Prosthodontists and all the other dental specialists.

  3. So, If I'm from egypt, and want to become a dentist at US, I join the navy? given that I am a graduate G.P. Dentist..

  4. That is awesome! Thanks for your service! Would this be a career you can do with a young family, stay-home-mom?? How long is your deployment?

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