Down Main Street with Phil Groce
A half block west of Rockland’s Main St. on Summer St, you would see Dr. Theriault’s long-standing dental office, though he just retired. Chandni Mahajan bought the practice and set up shop using his same dental and office staff. “I wanted a practice in a small town,” she told me, “with a close small-town community.”
What with the virus scourging the town, I observed that it must be a challenge opening a practice at this time. She agreed. “It has been hard, but it has given me some down- time. Before that, it was go-go-go. The staff had to adapt, as did I, and I am learning fast about running a business, though I have been in dentistry all along. But we need policies, and especially now, with infection control. It’s risky, you know. The mouth contains many germs and the risk is multiplied many times if we are not on the forefront with infection control policies. At the moment, we are only doing emergency procedures.”
I asked if she was new at running a business. “My father has a real estate business in New Delhi. Actually, they are all in lock-down right now. He wanted me to join his business. In India dentistry is 4 years after high school with an additional year for a residency. Coming from India to America, we have to attend a “bridging program” for 2-3 years before we can begin practice. That was in Chicago. The first job I had was in a federally qualified practice where I could repay my student loans.”
When did you decide to become a dentist? “We had a neighbor who was a dentist, and he had a laboratory next to his home. I could go over there when I was in middle school and see what they did, and I liked it. In high school I liked the sciences and also art—art being a big part of dentistry—at least, that is how I look at it. I want a home life, family life, community life—not big city life. I look forward to having a family myself. Dentistry gives me the work-life balance that I have always wanted.”
How did you decide to come to America? “I have one sister, and she spent 12 years in the U.S. working in finance at Barclays Capital; and she became a citizen. But she returned home just as I was getting out of dental training. My mother is a citizen, and we have extended family in the States, mostly coming to the U.S. in the 70’s. I thought I could better realize my dreams of a stable dental career in the U.S.”
How did you end up in Maine? “I’ve been a permanent U.S. resident since 2004, and I was practicing in Houston. I married in Houston, but I did not like the big-corporate atmosphere there. There was a dentist in Portland, Maine whose work I greatly admired through Facebook, and I convinced him to allow me to shadow him. So, I came up here, liked it, and got a job in a dental office in Millinocket.”
That must have slowed you down a bit. “True. There was much unemployment there, and it was not diverse in any way. But it gave me an opportunity to see more of Maine, to get into the outdoors–Baxter, Chimney Pond–and I later found I liked the mid-coast area. It was more diverse, and I felt more accepted. After that, I got a job in Lincolnville and eventually bought this practice, because I wanted to be in solo-practice in a defined community where I could practice dentistry as I see it.”
What kind of practice are you putting together? “I want a family dentistry in an environment where my team makes an effort to educate patients so they can feel comfortable with their questions being heard and answered. We want patients involved in the treatment process so they can trust us and not feel the anxiety that many patients experience in a dental office. We are kid- friendly, and we make an effort to regulate the way we talk to children about their treatment so they can have good feelings about their experience rather than fear.”
You have a big independent streak. “My father always said that my sister and I had to be able to support ourselves, notwithstanding what else in going on in our lives. Be our own boss. Education has always been priority for both me and my sister. I thought it would give me the opportunity to help others through my work and community support, especially after my experience with domestic violence in my marriage in Texas. I volunteer myself to help other women. I want to help them to empower themselves, for them to work toward their goals. The playing field should be level. Women are different than men. Many things they can do better than men, and the same for men. But women should be at peace with themselves and at power with themselves.”
I think what you are saying is that women are not in competition with men, but should be in competition with themselves, especially since they are biologically different. Correct? “Yes, but they must have equal opportunity. Why should women have to fight for opportunity?”
Sounds to me the crux of the problem in so many countries where men are fighting to hold down their historical roles as rulers of women. “We women are a family. Any human right should be a right for all.” How is it going so far in this community of Rockland? “I feel welcomed. I have joined the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. I mix in the community, especially at the art gatherings. I see a good future.”
Copyright Phillip G. Groce 2020
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