I’m proud to not only have my own successful endodontics practice, but to be a wife to my husband and a mom to three beautiful children. But as all working moms know, it’s not easy to balance your family life with your career!
My good friend and fellow mommy dentist, Dr. Grace Yum, has an amazing podcast called Mommy Dentists in Business, where she offers her wisdom and advice to other women with medical careers. I was thrilled to have the chance to be interviewed for an episode of that podcast, and to share my own journey of building a family, building a career, and being present for both.
You can listen to the podcast here, and check out the highlights below about how to balance your career and family!
Grace: What made you want to be a dentist, and what made you want to specialize in endodontics?
Sonia: My mom is an anesthesiologist and my brother is a neuroradiologist, so there was always medicine in my family. But I hated that my mom was always on call, and she couldn’t go to my dance recitals. So, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I still loved medicine. I went into dentistry because I really wanted to have control over my own schedule, which was also the driving force behind owning my own practice.
As far as why I went into endodontics: I was born without eight teeth, and I was always at the dentist. So I just felt like I knew what it was like to be a patient, and I could carry that through into how I practiced. Endo really became the forefront of my career early on before I even went to college because I had a massive toothache. I went to the dentist, but he couldn’t find anything. Then they thought I had trigeminal neuralgia, so they sent me to the neurologist. They put me on all this medication that made me sick. I ended up seeing seven different doctors, not just dentists. Nobody could diagnose me, I was having referred pain everywhere, I could not pinpoint it. Then they sent me to an oral surgeon. They thought it was the one tooth underneath a bridge I’d just gotten, so they extracted my tooth—but I still had the same pain.
It was actually the tooth behind it which had cracked. And nobody could diagnose my cracked tooth. Finally, I met an endodontist who was able to make that diagnosis. He was the second endodontist I had met. The first one kind of gave up on me, but the second one saved my life. He educated me all along the way, and it had such an impact on me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be at that time, but that one incident changed my career path. I saw how this one person, in this one field, could really help people. And so I ended up applying to dental school, and all throughout dental school I was wondering, “What the heck happened to me, and how can I prevent that from happening again?” I didn’t go into endo right away, I worked as a GP in New York City for three years before I decided that endo was what I really wanted to do.
Grace: You really went through the ringer—you’re a walking dental school requirement. I find that if you’ve gone through it yourself, you’re more empathetic to your patients, and it makes you a better clinician from an emotional standpoint.
Sonia: It’s why I work late, because I know that pain is unimaginable. If someone is in pain, I just can’t let them go home. I stay a little later, and I do emergency treatment so that person can sleep the next night.
Grace: Dental tooth pain is one of the worst pains out there.
Sonia: Now that I’ve had children, and I’ve had a toothache, I definitely think the toothache wins!
Grace: Why did you decide to open your own practice?
Sonia: I was struggling to pay rent in NYC at the time. I wasn’t saving money or growing at any of the practices where I worked. I also realized I wasn’t doing the procedures I really wanted to do. I didn’t love the cosmetic aspect, I really enjoyed helping people get rid of their pain. So I said, “If I don’t apply to an endo residency now, I’m never going to do it.”
I was so excited when I got in, but I knew it was going to be a challenge when I saw the curriculum. At the time, I was dating someone who wasn’t fully committed—he’s my husband now! But at the time, he really wasn’t committed, and I said, “I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do, and if I’m still something that’s important to you, then it’ll still work out.”
So, I moved to South Florida all by myself and started my residency. I’m glad I did it that way, because we had so much literature to read every single week that I didn’t have time for anything else! I was happy I didn’t have a family or a spouse who would get upset because I always had to study. I would study really hard Sunday night through Thursday night, and then my husband (he was my boyfriend at the time) would come and visit me every other weekend. And so we made it work.
Grace: When you went to endo for two years, and he’d go back and forth, what was the plan?
Sonia: My husband is from Charlotte—his whole family is here. So when I moved to Florida, he moved back to Charlotte. We knew that if we wanted to get married and have children then we would need support, so we moved back here, and within a couple months he bought into a practice.
Grace: So he’s a dentist too! How does that work? Do you guys talk shop when you’re at home?
Sonia: Not too much, believe it or not! Sometimes we do if we share a patient, but he doesn’t send me many, which is kind of strange. You’d think he’d be my number one referral, but that’s not the case!
Grace: So now you’re in Charlotte. Did you get an associateship first?
Sonia: I tried, and I couldn’t get a job. Nobody would hire me. I graduated from my residency in 2008, right when the economy tanked. So people weren’t looking for help because their practices had slowed down. I really had no choice—it was either start my own practice or be unemployed.
Grace: You have three children—what’s it like for you to balance your career and your kids?
Sonia: It’s the toughest part of the whole gig. I have the worst amount of mommy guilt on the planet! Sometimes you feel like you’re never giving enough, whether it’s to your practice or to your kids, but you’ve got to find ways to help with that balance. You’ve got to find people to support you. I’ve had a live-in nanny since I had my first child eight years ago, and I couldn’t do it without that type of support. My in-laws have been really helpful, and my husband is incredible. We’re a 50/50 couple—he does something, and then I recognize that and do the same amount, and vice versa. So if I go to a summit for a weekend, I’ve got to give him a weekend off!
Now I don’t have as much guilt, because my kids are in school, so they’re having fun, and they’re learning. But along the way, it was rough.
I love that my kids see that their mom is working hard, because I saw that in my mom. She told me I should always be able to support myself, because you never know what’s going to happen. So that’s been my driving force, and I’m so happy that if something were to happen, I could take care of my kids.
Grace: That’s what I was taught as well, that just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t do and be the things that men can do and achieve. Being a working mom is hard, but at the same time really fulfilling.
Sonia: I also make sure that I’m finding time for myself. My body needs a massage every two weeks. But you’ve got to be creative—I found a lady who would come to my house after my kids went to sleep! So you can be creative and still give yourself time and pamper yourself.
Grace: A lot of moms try to do it all, and that can put so much pressure on yourself. It’s about balance, and having your spouse meet you halfway so you’re not the only parent.
Sonia: That was huge—my husband probably changed more diapers than I did! And I love that when I go away, I don’t worry that my husband can’t handle it. He can actually handle it better than I can. I stress out when he’s away for the weekend and I’m the only parent, but he’s awesome at it.
Grace: What is the best piece of advice that you have for any other mommy dentists in business?
Sonia: Take it easy on yourself. You’re going to hit some bumps in the road, but don’t stress out about it. Believe that you are enough. Then, sit down and map out how you want to practice, and then do everything you can to make that happen. Start with your vision first, and then craft it so you can become your own idea of that perfect mom in your own perfect practice.