Westminster Dentist and Navy Reservist Spends 20 Days in Senegal

Local Dentist and Navy Reservist, Captain Paul Bowersox of Westminster, MD is certainly a man who has “been there, and done that” over the course of his 27 years affiliated with the Navy.  Recently he spent a portion of last summer participating in Operation Western Accord 2012 in the country of Senegal.  This was the first evolution of the exercise and included over 1,200 service members from six countries.

As a member of the 4th Marine Logistics Group he served as the Officer in Charge (OIC) for the dental unit that performed field dentistry procedures such as exams, fillings, cleanings, and even a few extractions over their twenty day deployment.   In addition to providing actual dental support to US service members, the deployment also provided an opportunity to hone other important skills.  “Training the members of the team to set up, maintain, and breakdown a field clinic in a very austere environment was challenging.” said Captain Bowersox.

Although they were located in a rather remote area (about 2.5 hours by bus northwest of the city of Dakar), there were some opportunities to see the sights. While Dr. Bowersox took advantage of a one day safari trip to a 1,000 acre game preserve, others on his team opted to spend a day in the city of Dakar itself.  Overall though, it was the dealings with the diverse population that he really enjoyed.  “Interacting with the Marines is always a fun experience.  Their esprit de corps for what they do has made the past 22 years in the reserves a wonderful experience, and meeting members of the Senegalese and other militaries is also rewarding.” he said.

Dr. Paul Bowersox, DDS, of Westmister, MD.

Dr. Paul Bowersox, DDS, of Westmister, MD.

While some may wonder how he manages to balance his civilian practice with his Navy Reserve commitments, Dr. Bowersox indicated that it really has not been that difficult.  “I have several dentists that cover for me when I am away, just like most dentists do when they go on vacation or do continuing education courses” he explained.  “My patients are very receptive to, and appreciative of, my military commitment. They are generally very eager to hear what part of the world I am off to.”

Professionally, service in the reserves offers unique working environments.  For example, the Navy offers the opportunity to work with everything from the most state of the art equipment in military clinics, to the most basic of supplies during evolutions such as Western Accord.  Dr. Bowersox believes this as a positive experience.

In a field dental suite, Navy Capt. Paul Bowersox, a dentist, and HM3 Andrine Randle, a dental technician, from 4th Dental Battalion, treat a U.S. Marine patient during Exercise Western Accord 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda)

In a field dental suite, Navy Capt. Paul Bowersox, a dentist, and HM3 Andrine Randle, a dental technician, from 4th Dental Battalion, treat a U.S. Marine patient during Exercise Western Accord 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda)

“Sometimes it takes a little time to get comfortable with your supplies, but the benefit is that you get to try, in a real clinical environment, materials and equipment you don’t often use. I have changed materials that I use in my office based on what I used in the Navy” he explained.

In the past 27 years, Dr. Bowersox has served on many platforms, from clinics, to ships, to serving on the ground with the Marines.  He has visited over a dozen foreign locations and eight military installations here in the United States.  “The opportunity to serve, very good continuing education opportunities, and fantastic friendships and memories” are some of the reasons Dr. Bowersox continues his service, adding, “The retirement benefits are very good too.”

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Organizational Culture: Right Person for the Right Job

In my 18 years in the Navy I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great number of medical officers.  Many absolutely LOVED the Navy and have stayed, or are planning to stay, for a full 20 year career. Others have enjoyed the Navy for what it can also be; an opportunity to practice medicine on a global scale for 5 to 10 years, serving Sailors and Marines, as well as their families. After a while these doctors, nurses, and dentists eventually moved on to civilian practice, loaded up with great training and some seriously cool “sea stories”.  I can only think of two people, however, that absolutely dreaded coming to work.  These individuals were not only miserable, but they made life tough for the entire work section.

Why were they hopelessly miserable?  As it turns out, their reasons were similar.  In both cases the reality of their situations at the time were not in alignment with what they expected a Navy career to be like.  To be honest, I don’t really know what lifestyle they expected, but it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered was that they felt trapped, and by extension, were worried that they might have been falling behind in life.

SAN DIEGO (March 4, 2011) Lt. Lauren Mattingly, an intern in the Naval Medical Center San Diego Graduate Medical Education program, examines a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The graduate program trains doctors in the development of clinical and professional skills. The hospital has 24 accredited programs such as obstetrics gynecology, internal medicine and orthopedics. More than 70 interns are enrolled in the 2011 Graduate Medical Education program. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph A. Boomhower/Released)

Two.  That’s it. In my career only two were so miserable that they were actually a detriment to the mission.  It’s not many, but both were memorable situations.

Understanding the environment you are entering is critical to ensuring long term happiness in any endeavor.  These two unhappy souls painted themselves into a corner because they were too focused on immediate benefits and did not learn enough about the organization they were committing to.

The best organizations pay their employees just enough to keep them happy financially, but they really distinguish themselves in other areas such as organizational culture.  Of course, not all organizational cultures are the same, just as no two individuals are the same.  The real trick for an individual is to find a culture that fits their personality. In a similar way, organizations (including the Navy) actively seek out people who will mesh with the culture they already have.  When personality and organizational culture are aligned, success is exponential.

Money can’t buy happiness, but, of course, there is also nothing wrong with making a nice living doing something that makes you happy.  Compensation is very important and should certainly be factored into career decisions and there is a significant amount of money involved in affiliating with the Navy. Medical school scholarships are worth well over $200,000.  Physicians in certain residencies can earn close to $70,000 a year (in addition to residency pay) to affiliate after training, and licensed physicians with some skill sets can receive over $100,000 just for signing on.  But even if your primary mitivation for looking into a Navy career is a monetary one, you still owe it to yourself to investigate what your future will be like in the Navy.

The Navy wants individuals who will be successful in our organization. That’s why the affiliation process requires two interviews from current Navy officers.  Applicants tend to come away from these conversations with a much clearer picture of what their future will look like in the Navy.  These Navy medical professionals go out of there way to approach subjects such as deployments, residency programs and other training opportunities.  

They speak candidly about their ability to pursue personal goals, such as  family life, as well as the highs and lows of a Navy career. In addition, they speak to the responsibilities inherent with being in the military, as well as the specific constraints of the system.  The goal is an honest representation of what a future Naval Medical Officer can expect.  The more people learn, the more excited they get about a future as a Naval Officer.  The more they know ahead of time, as an applicant,  the easier it will be to navigate through any bad days they may experience once affiliated.

Oddly enough, the two miserable doctors I spoke about may actually have enjoyed the Navy, had they known what was coming.  It wasn’t the Navy as a whole that made them grumpy, it was feeling like they had been victimized.  All jobs will have some good days and some bad days.   I believe that had they had a better recruitment experience they either would have been more prepared to handle any bad days that came along and thus experienced a more successful (or at least had a more tolerable) Navy career. That, or they would not have joined at all.  Either of these would have been a more desirable situation for all parties involved.

The Navy isn’t for everyone and not everyone is meant for the Navy. I do believe, however, that there are many individuals who can find happiness and success in the Navy despite not even knowing it yet.   If you enjoy the opportunity to travel the world and working in an incredible team oriented environment the Navy may well be the place for you.  Check out the opportunities in Navy Medicine at the official Navy Medical Officer Recruiting website or you can reach out to me for more information.

Bob Wheeler

Chief Hospital Corpsman

bob.wheeler@navy.mil

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Filed under Culture, Dentist, Doctor, Nurse, Residency, Scholarship