A Personal Story: “A Student for Life”

My excitement for oral medicine started when I was in my final year of dental school. Oral medicine clinics featured cases that were always complex and fascinating.  These clinics gave me respite from the unimaginative “drilling and filling” restorative clinical sessions.  I recall one specific clinic that confirmed in my mind that I should commit my career pursuit to becoming an oral medicine specialist. It was my fifth and final year as a dental student at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.  Professor Flint effortlessly diagnosed post-herpetic neuralgia in a patient who had seen nine different providers previously.  This newfound intrigue drove me to complete a 3-year Oral Medicine Residency at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) & Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM). During my residency, I was fortunate to be exposed to several complex cases and witnessed leading experts in a multidisciplinary capacity diagnose and manage the most challenging of cases.  I am truly indebted to all my mentors at BWH/HSDM, namely, Drs. Villa, Treister, Woo, Mawardi, and Sonis who, throughout the years with their invaluable expertise, all successfully guided me to recently attaining specialist status with the American Board of Oral Medicine and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.  I truly enjoyed carrying out my duties as chief resident in my final year of residency and working alongside such a magnificent group of residents and faculty made the experience one that I will never forget. 

Oral medicine is an immensely academic specialty and, therefore, I felt it important to enroll in a Ph.D. program that could allow me to perform translational oral medicine research.  I am currently in a microbiology lab carrying out research under the auspices of Mary Ann Jabra-Rizk, Ph.D.  My research is focused on investigating a novel natural host-secreted antimicrobial formulation (patent-pending) targeting Candida-associated denture stomatitisin an experimental rat model that utilizes digital 3D denture printing.  I was honored to attend a ceremony where my lab’s novel antimicrobial formulation was selected as a finalist for the Invention of the Year Award.  The overriding aim of this translationally directed research project is to enhance clinical therapeutic strategies. Finally, through numerous clinical encounters, Dr. Woo was the one who made me come to appreciate the importance of correlating the clinical picture with the histopathological findings.  So much so that with a great deal of excitement, I eagerly awaited viewing the pathology slides with her, as I found it very rewarding when this final piece of the puzzle provided a definitive diagnosis in a challenging case.  I am currently combining my Ph.D program with an Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology Residency Program at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, and this training has thus far been fruitful and I have witnessed many a rare and interesting case. 

Oral medicine and oral pathology are such fascinating specialties that being a perpetual student for life is not only an easy task but is profoundly gratifying.

Ahmed S. Sultan, BDS, FDS RCSEd

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