An interview with a Canadian Armed Forces Veteran
Every November 11, Canadians stop and observe Remembrance Day. It’s a time to reflect and pay respects to those who served and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Dr. David Stevenson, a semi-retired dentist and an eight-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, shares some interesting facts about his time in the military and why this day is so important to him.
1 – The military will pay for your dental school.
Upon being accepted to dental school, Dr. Stevenson was faced with the challenge of how to pay for it. He applied to the Dental Officer Training Program. Here he made a year-for-year agreement – for each year of school the military paid for he would serve with the Forces after. In this way, not only was his dental school paid for he also received a salary to live on. After finishing school, he spent four years serving in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps.
“What started as an arrangement of financial convenience really turned into one of the best experiences of my life. It was a great deal that I’d recommend to anybody. I really, really would.”
2 – It will give you more skills beyond what you learn at dental school.
As a dentist in the military and a person with a medical background, you need to be ready for anything. Dr. Stevenson said he would receive training in advanced cardiac life support, advanced trauma life support and weapons training.
“When we were in exercises that simulated battles, it was all hands-on-deck, so my role wasn’t fixed. I needed to be able to suture anything that needed to be sutured or help with general anesthesia if required.”
As his career progressed, he took advantage of the formal leadership training he was encouraged to take. He says that training helped him throughout his career, including when he and his wife opened their private clinic after leaving the Forces. He also benefitted from his bosses, who he described as “tremendous mentors” who taught him clinical, human resource, and administrative skills.
“On a professional level, it was one of the best learning environments I could have had.”
3 – Being a military dentist has some big differences from working as a civilian dentist.
Military dentists have the rank of Captain. Sometimes when a patient arrived at their appointment, they would salute Dr. Stevenson, which is something that doesn’t happen in his practice now. Also, members of the public can choose whether to go to the dentist (we highly recommend it), but Dr. Stevenson says that members of the Forces (at least when he served) were required to go to two dental examination appointments per year.
There are also clinical differences, like the demographics of the patients he treated. For example, Dr. Stevenson did not treat any children until he got into private practice. For the most part, Dr. Stevenson said he treated young, healthy individuals. Scheduling was also different sometimes because his entire day of patients may get called away to go on an exercise.
“I learned to be flexible because your typical day could turn into anything but. You could have an entire Air Force squadron booked, but then they get called to go out on exercise and all of a sudden you get attached to an infantry battalion and find yourself driving down the Autobahn going somewhere you had no idea you’d be going. “
4 – You sense you’re contributing to a bigger picture and your work matters.
“The most rewarding part of providing care in the military to me is you realize just how much you are needed. Not just to provide a filling or whatever, that’s just part of it. You are making sure that our Forces are ready when they’re called on. Sometimes they are putting themselves in a position where their lives are on the line, and they need to be healthy to perform their duty. You realize how much of a part you play in the bigger picture.”
5 – Remembrance Day is important.
Dr. Stevenson has a history of family members in the military including grandparents in both World Wars. His family are some of the lucky ones who made it back alive. Unfortunately, a pilot friend of Dr. Stevenson’s passed away while serving. He knows the importance of the day.
“When I first started going to Remembrance Day ceremonies in my small town, there were only about 100 people who came. I think some generations of people need to put a face to what a veteran is. Afghanistan put a much younger face on veterans. We now have thousands that attend. I don’t miss Remembrance Day. It’s extremely important to me.”
6 – It’s rewarding.
“Whatever your field, whatever your area of interest, whatever your trade is, the military is a very honourable and rewarding choice in career. I went into it, as I said, for financial reasons figuring, ‘OK. This is going to be the way I’m going to get myself through dental school.’ I came out of it saying, ‘Oh my God, they more than lived up to their end of the bargain. I can only hope that I did the same in return.’ I would encourage it to anyone looking to continue their career or as another avenue to your career. The military is a tremendous thing.”
We thank Dr. Stevenson for taking the time to share his experiences. Dr. David Stevenson is an ODA member and Past-President.
- Find a Remembrance Day ceremony near you
- Canadian Forces Dental Officer Program
- The history of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps