It has been over 20 years since I first set foot in the US. I went to the US for the first time to visit a few dental schools. I was in the process of searching for a post-graduate program in dentistry right after I graduated with my Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) from the University of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was a British colony and going to the University of Hong Kong (or HKU) was highly competitive and could be easily summarised as a six sigma event: it was rare. I was one of the lucky ones who had a great mentor, Dr Homer Tso, when I was in dental school and I spent numerous hours chatting with him about life and dentistry. We finally came to the conclusion that it would be a great idea for me to pursue an advanced training program in the US. Well, he was biased, after all, as Homer had spent 13 years of his life in the US and in his view, this was the place where human potential could be unleashed to its best.
At that time, it was back in 1987 and the dental school in Hong Kong was only 7 years old. Resources were few and far between. Without the benefit of the internet, things were a lot slower! I wrote to the American Dental Association in an attempt to get information about postgraduate programs in the USA, and I received a wrong booklet only after 6 months! It would be another few months before I received the correct booklets in the mail.
Anyway, Homer and I sat down one day in his practice, and he patiently went through the booklet with me and finally identified a few meaningful post-graduate programs for me. Normally, young dental surgeons only pursue advanced training after a few years of practice. That was what I assumed I was going to do. However, Homer challenged me with this – One may apply for a US-based program before graduation, and here is the catch: admission is a matter of one’s luck and academic excellence. That certainly was a big motivational factor for me. As the Chinese saying goes, time is precious as gold! I prompted sent off my application forms and went back to hit the books.
Well, literally a few days after I passed my final examination, I was on the plane to the US for the first time. Going over to Chicago in early February was an excellent experience. I arrived there the day before it had its worst snow storm since 1969. I met up with Dr. Lee Jameson at Northwestern University. Dr Jameson was the program director at that time and a top guru in the field. At the end of the day, Dr. Jameson simply said: “Ansgar, you are in”. That line was like the best music to my ears and the first thing in my mind was to call my loved ones to tell them the good news.
Subsequently, Dr. John Chai played a very important role in molding me in the area of implants and reconstructive dentistry. He also managed to correct many of the flaws in my DNA. Dr. Jameson eventually became the dean of the school and he has stayed active in the profession even after his tenure at the school.
After Northwestern University, I went to UCLA, and then was on staff at the University of Toronto for 11 year. Fast forward many years later, I am now married with children and running Specialist Dental Group in Singapore. Last year, Dr. Lee Jameson was serving as the President of the American College of Prosthodontics. A dozen of the old boys met up in Vegas in October 2013 to have a fun gathering to renew our fellowship.
All in all, I am grateful to all these people and the part they played in my life.