Dental Products Report publishes a yearly report on the top 25 women in dentistry. This year, our very own Dr. Sabbahi earned one of the top spots. As part of the award, they asked Dr. Sabbahi several questions that they hope will inspire the next generation of women in dentistry, or any path they choose.
Interview with Dr. Sabbahi
In your own words, what do you do and how does it pertain to dentistry?
I am a Dentist. I am a practice owner. I am a team leader. I take care of people and help restore their overall health through their smile and oral health.
How did you come to be in your position?
I have been blessed to come across great mentors and friends. I have an amazing business partner who also happens to be one of my best friends. We met in undergrad and she is actually the person who got me interested in dentistry. I graduated dental school from Univ of Texas Dental Branch-Houston. I did 1 year of residency at Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard School of Dentistry. I came back to Houston and worked at an office for over 4 years with great people and an incredible mentor whom I learned a lot from. I learned a lot of things about how I like to do dentistry and how I would not like to do dentistry. I worked in this office for 3 years with my current partner. We have been great friends since undergrad but after working with her I realized that even though we are so incredibly different in so many ways, we have the same ethics and standard of care. Our dental philosophy is so similar, so we decided to open an office together. Many people told me not to open with a friend, but we are so different we honestly just fill in each others gaps and it works beautifully. So its been a compilation of all these opportunities, people, hard work, dedication and God pushing me through.
What would you call the best part of your job? Why?
The best part of my job is the ability to serve people. The fulfillment I feel when I can take a person in pain or who is deathly afraid of the dentist and take them out of pain, or just make their experience with me more pleasurable, is immeasurable. I love that I can literally change something immediately using my hands. I can have a direct effect on somebody’s life.
I have been able to take my career on the road a few times and take part in mission trips or days of service, and to me, that experience makes my work worth it. We have even opened our office one day for a ‘free dental day’ event where we saw patients who could not afford to get dental treatment and we saw over 100 patients that day. It was such an incredible event. And to know that we have the honor to offer that to the community is priceless. I also do a lot of work with local refugee families who have very little knowledge about dental health and have not had the privilege of receiving routine dental care. We do our best to inform them and to treat some of these cases which can be heart breaking, especially when you hear what they have been through.
Also the flexibility of my job which allows me to be a practice owner and a mom to 2 beautiful little girls; Nour is 2 and Maryam is 1. I work part time right now so that I can spend quality time with them and they end up coming to the office with me a lot. They are well trained in the elimination of sugar bugs.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your job? Why?
Its a constant challenge to feel like you are up to date on all the new and changing information in the field. Its called a ‘practice’ because you are always learning and growing. There is so much to learn and so many courses to take. No matter how many CE courses I take, I feel like I need to take more. I always want to be the best at what I do. I want to offer the best services and the most precise treatments. I want it all to be perfect. When you are working with so many different people you cant always make people happy and thats hard to swallow sometimes.
In your opinion, what facet or factor in your life and journey got you where you are today?
Again, its been a combination of so many things not just one facet. My current partner Dr Bushra Makani, initially tweaked my interest in the dental field. My family has always been extremely supportive of my education and career goals. They actually would not have accepted anything less. So that wasnt even an option. Ive always been focused on wanting to be in the healthcare field. Ever since I was a kid. I have a book I wrote when I was in the 3rd grade and I have it all outlined; I will graduate high school at this age, I will go to college, and I will be come a Dr at this age. Now some of the ages are off, but I have always known that I wanted to work with my hands and be a healer of some sort. I think its a bit funny that even at that age I never wanted to be a princess or a ballerina….. Its always been a doctor. Needless to say, my mom saved this book in her stash and she occasionally pulls it out to show me how I planned my life in the third grade.
Is there anybody in particular that inspired you or pushed you to work harder in your journey to your current position? How did they inspire or push you?
My parents. My mom and dad are both incredibly hard workers and they value education and drive. They have pushed my brothers and I to get on our feet and become self reliant, honest, hard working people. They moved here from Egypt over 37 years ago and success has been the only option. The stayed on top of us for our studies. My mom always told me that I have to be able to depend on myself, and that I need to earn my degree and find a career that makes me happy. Even if I end up being a full time mommy or a full time dentist, I need to have those options. My dad is the best at what he does. He takes so much pride and puts so much love into his career its incredible. He is a physical therapist. Both of them are. They have instilled in me the love of service and giving back to my community. I joke with my dad that he pretty much runs a free clinic, but he is so blessed and he loves what he does. Ive never seen somebody love what he does as much as him. I could never do as much as he does, but he inspires me. Many times they send me a ‘probono case’ somebody they heard of that is in need of treatment, and sometimes i think “this is too much, I just cant take on this case this time” but everytime I take on a case like that, it comes back to me in a form of the most incredible blessing. They taught me that nothing that you give in charity will take away from what you have. It will never decrease your wealth or time or energy. It will only increase you. Thats also part of my faith, but they live it and they encourage us to live it as well. For example, one time a friend sent me lady who was in pain. I ended up doing treatment on her to take her out of pain. I liked her so much that I just finished the entire case. She cooked for the entire office, she came back and brought 4 other patients with insurance and this lady is literally like a part of my family now.
If you were to take a young female under your wing to show her the ropes of what you do, what advice would you give her?
Always be humble enough to learn from those who are great at what they do, but be confident and fierce enough to stick to what you know is right. Find good mentors.
Why is that important advice?
Because as women, many times, we are more easily manipulated to do certain things. Whether its to produce a certain way, or to diagnose a certain way. This can come from colleagues or even patients. As the doctor you are in a position of power and you have a responsibility to your patients and to yourself. Its important to know who is worthy of learning from and when you need to stand your ground and do what you have been taught is right. That takes humility and confidence.
What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your journey here?
That when you love what you do it makes all the difference. It’s almost certain you will succeed. I love dentistry. I love leading and growing an incredible team. I love having the power to give back. Leading my life with intention. Going to work and growing my business is so exciting to me. …. I guess that’s more than just one thing, but the journey is action packed and there are too many gems to pick up on. I’ve never been good at picking just one thing.