Mending Wounds, Restoring Hope
As a captain in the U.S. Air Force, Christopher Smith ’07 is completing his dentistry education in one of the top oral surgery residencies in the country, helping repair the trauma suffered by veterans and civilians alike.
When most of us think about dentistry as a career, we imagine our trusted dentist who reminds us unfailingly to floss and keeps our teeth healthy and bright. We probably don’t think about someone who can repair the broken bodies of men and women wounded in battle, or the faces of children hurt in car accidents.
But this is where the career of Christopher Smith ’07 is taking him, into the highly specialized field of oral and maxillofacial surgery. And, as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, through which he has attended dental school and is finishing his residency at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Smith says he loves the challenge of the work—even when it brings him face to face with profound suffering.
“Here in San Antonio we take all the civilian trauma as well as overseas from the military,” he says. “Everything from the collarbone up is our responsibility, so we’re putting faces back together, reconstructing the skulls, doing facial cosmetics after trauma or cancer.” The work becomes especially poignant, he says, when the patient is a child or a wounded veteran.
“The wounded warriors we get who are missing half of their face, how are we going to rebuild that, give them back what they don’t have?” he says. “I love being able to help. But it never leaves you. You learn to cope with it, but it never leaves.”
Smith is a chief resident and in his final year of school; he’ll graduate in 2016, after which the Air Force could send him anywhere to complete his four-year obligation. His path began at Washington College where he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Corey Smith ’06, who was a biology major on the pre-dental track; he’s now an associate dentist at Atlantic Dental Cosmetic and Family Dentistry in Ocean City, Maryland, and lead practitioner at Worcester County Dental Center.
Chris Smith was interested in premedical, but after job shadowing with professionals in various medical fields, and questioning them pointedly about their career choices and the cost in time and money to achieve them, he chose dentistry. Then, because he had always been interested in the military, he met with a recruiter about pursuing the profession through the Air Force, which would pay for his schooling in exchange for his service after graduating.
He attended the University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry, graduating in 2011, and then did a year of general dentistry with the Air Force from 2011-12. He entered his residency in San Antonio in 2012 and is now a captain and one of the chief residents in the program.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” he says. “The oral surgery residency is one of the top ones in the country.”
In addition to his brother, Smith’s ties to WAC run deep. He met the woman who would become his wife, Rebecca Holtzer ’07, while at the College; an international studies major, she went on to get her master’s degree in education and is now a high school history teacher in San Antonio. He was a founding member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, coordinator of the Campus Center (before it was turned over to Dining Services), vice president of the Student Events Board, and was a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership society, the Honor Board, and SGA. Each aspect of his life on campus, whether academic or social, broadened and deepened his skills and informed his outlook.
“A liberal arts education is designed to make you look at the world from multiple viewpoints and angles. It’s not just your psychology classes or history classes that you utilize, but the sum of all its parts. To have a liberal arts background means to have the ability and potential to follow any path laid before you,” he says. “I have used every bit of my liberal arts education in not only my career, but my day to day life. From treating patients to being an officer in the United States Air Force, my education has been the backbone of all my interactions. In reality, my liberal arts education has given me every tool I feel I need to tackle any obstacle that I may come across in life.”