Sarah Liu and Alexandra Carella look to their teammates for support through the GPR Program


AC_LS3 With the recent merger of the Department of Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the Montreal General Hospital and the ambulatory dentistry services at the Royal Victoria Hospital, team work has been a key to the new clinics success. Merging two different departments, from two different locations can be challenging. But thanks to the hard work of everyone, the two cultures have come together to create a vibrant new clinic. This month, we sat down with Sarah Liu and Alexandra Carella, two residents, one from each site, to learn about their year as a resident and how they’ve been adapting to the changes.

Alexandra has always been up for a challenge. Born and raised in Montreal to Italian-Polish parents, there was never a dull moment at home, especially as she was trying to simultaneously learn four languages. A true McGillian, she completed her BSc and DMD at McGill before she decided to do her General Residency Program at the Montreal General Hospital. When she finds time away from the hospital, the self-confessed foodie enjoys exploring the world, visiting glaciers in Alaska or bathing on a sunny beach in the Caribbean. Before she goes to work in a private practice next year, she’ll be a supervisor at this year’s Summer Clinic.

Sarah hails from a family of scholars (all 4 of her grandparents were university professors in China!) and always knew that she was university bound. Born in Edmonton, she lived in Ottawa before moving to the Montreal for high school. At the young age of 19 she was accepted into the DENT-P Program at McGill and has never had a regret. She admits that being a young dentists has its advantages and disadvantages, especially with patients thinking that she is too young! With the little spare time she has, she can be found unwinding on the dance floor or travelling to the four corners of the world. She’s headed to China before she goes to work in a private practice next year.

Why did you choose to do the GPR program at McGill?

AC: It was natural for me to continue in the GPR Program at the MGH. Having completed my DMD here I knew that the program had some of the finest teachers/clinicians in the country and I wanted to learn from the best in order to prepare me for my career. Additionally, the MGH is Montreal’s trauma centre and I saw this as a great opportunity to treat many interesting and complex cases that I would not normally be exposed to in other hospital programs or private practice.
SL: After graduating, I wanted to further hone my technical, diagnostic and social skills and the GPR program offered the perfect vehicle for this. At McGill we are surrounded by the best, most dedicated teachers who love to teach and pass along their wisdom to the next generation of dentists. I also loved that I would be constantly challenged by advanced cases, as well as by medically compromised patients.

What is the hardest part of being a resident?

SL: For me, I find it difficult to keep my emotions in check when facing patients with critical illness. Learning to deal with these delicate situations and keeping up with my medical knowledge in order to safely treat medically compromised patients have been the hardest part of my residency.
AC: The hardest part of being a resident this year was dealing with the merge of the two clinics. We had developed a routine and established a group dynamic when we had to merge. Because of this, we were away from the clinic for several weeks and lost the sense of continuity.

How has your time management changed since you were an undergraduate student?

Both: Efficiency! We see as many patients in one day as we used to see in one week as an undergraduate student. Being quick, productive and managing patients efficiently is crucial to our success.

Coming from the MGH, how has the merger had an impact on your year?

AC: The merger has been mostly beneficial. We now have a larger and improved facility to treat our patients, which is easily accessible for patients in wheelchairs. We also have the pleasure of working with five more residents now, for a grand total of 10 residents. This means that there is always something interesting going on in the clinic for us to learn from. We also have more clinical demonstrators from different specialities now, so we are learning a very multidisciplinary approach to treatment. Lastly, with 10 residents, our support system has doubled.

The major drawback was having to suspend our clinical activities during the renovations, which would delay our cases much to the frustration of both the residents and patients.

Coming from the RVH, how has the merger had an impact on your year?

SL: The Royal Victoria GPR program was in a smaller clinic. With the merge we are benefitting from having this new facility, as well as having oral surgery just down the hall. We also have double the clinicians, which increases my exposure to many different schools of thoughts and the multidisciplinary approach has been very beneficial.

Of course, there are some administrative issues to be worked out (i.e. merging the files, differing payment protocols, etc.) and these issues can sometimes be distracting. However, in the short time we have been merged, everyone has been very motivated to help the clinic run smoothly and this effort shows.

What is the most important thing you have learned during the merger?

SL: Keep a positive attitude, it goes a long way in keeping up team morale!
AC: Throughout this year I have learned that it is very important to be able to adapt to unfamiliar and sometimes difficult situations. The residents have had a stressful year not only being in a residency program, but also “smoothing out the wrinkles” of the new facility. We’ve had to adapt to endure the renovations, to a new charting system, new software, etc. Putting aside our differences and working as a team to overcome these hurdles has made this experience a huge success.

How has team work enriched your experience as a resident?

AC: Without teamwork and the support of my fellow residents, this whole experience would have been very different. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, we’ve binged on junk food together. We spend so much time together that we really have become a family. We’ve grown to depend on one another to help with managing a busy day of emergency walk-ins or getting a second opinion on a patient. It’s really amazing to have such a great team to collaborate with and it has definitely enriched my overall experience in the program.
SL: Having other residents around is great. We all learn from each other through teamwork, presentations and simply discussing our patient cases. By having so many other residents around it is like multiplying your learning experience tenfold. It has also been great for moral support. Having nine other people around that are all going through the same difficulties and frustrations is priceless.

What does success mean to you both in and out of the classroom?

SL: Success for me is balance. If I can achieve balance in my life to find happiness for me and my patients, this is a successful life.
AC: Success to me means being happy and knowing that no matter the outcome, you tried your best in whatever you set out to accomplish. It means not having regrets.

With patients, I feel like success is subjective and the definition changes with every case. It means the best possible treatment for that specific patient in that moment.

For more information on the merger between the RVH and the MGH, you can read the MUCH enBref article on page 3.

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One Response to “Sarah Liu and Alexandra Carella look to their teammates for support through the GPR Program”
  1. What a great interview! Congratulations to Alexandra and Sarah for exposing some of the elements of an experience in a unique hospital based GPR program during a very significant historic year! A very positive and adaptive group of residents has certainly contributed to the spirit of collaboration that has been maintained through this clinical integration of two departments.

    On behalf of all the members of our department, a heartfelt thank you to the members of the MUHC Dentistry redevelopment team for their hard work and collaboration in implementing this challenging clinical transition. Thank you to Dr. Hilal Sirhan for leading this historic project! Thanks as well to all of the administrative hospital staff and department employees who supported this project through its various stages!

    Great work team!