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Alumni network provides career direction

When Emily Dolan (’17) was younger, she dreamed of being an orthodontist, although her career choice was based more on pleasant memories than actual career research. She recalls having “funky teeth” and making frequent visits to the orthodontist where she enjoyed hot chocolate from the Keurig machine.

Graduating high school, Dolan set out to pursue a nursing degree at St. Norbert College. She was on track to graduate early, but realized after a year in the program that it wasn’t the right fit for her. She changed her major to Biology and spent time researching other careers. She job shadowed a genetic counselor, physician’s assistant, dentist, orthodontist and oral surgeon. Her experiences helped her realize that she didn’t want to work in a lab, and that while she enjoyed dentistry she also didn’t want to work in a specialty area of the profession.

“Teeth are interesting and wild,” Dolan said. “I enjoyed the patient interaction and found it to be an interesting bridge between science and people.”

Ultimately, it was a job shadow experience with Lourdes alumnus Michelle (Kapral) Wihlm (’99), owner of Wihlm Dental, that helped her hone in on general dentistry. Dolan was baby sitting for Wihlm’s children when Wihlm offered her the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a dental office.

“It’s a great way to get a better feel for a career before you spend a lot of time and money on it,” Wihlm said of hiring Dolan as an assistant in Spring 2018. “You get a feel for if it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life. You can observe, but it’s different to get involved and do things day to day because every day is different.”

Wihlm had a similar experience after high school. During the summer of 2000, she worked with Dr. Roger Jacobson in his dental practice. Patty (Brown) Benz (‘72) was working in Dr. Jacobson’s office as a receptionist and learned of Wihlm’s interest in dentistry. This experience helped solidify Wihlm’s decision to practice dentistry. She graduated from Marquette University in 2007 and purchased Jacobson’s practice in 2008 when he retired.

In Wisconsin, as long as an individual is properly trained, they can assist chair-side—handing instruments, setting up an exam room, and typing up notes, for example, Wihlm explained.

“It’s a win/win situation, especially for someone interested in dentistry,” said Wihlm who is committed to growing interest in dental careers in Wisconsin. “When you’re vested, you pick things up quicker. I can share what I do and why. The profession is going toward corporate dentistry so it’s nice to show the private practice side. You don’t have a boss over you dictating decision making. We can make our own decisions about what is the best care for patients.”

Dolan plans to graduate in a year and a half and will apply to dental schools in Summer 2020. She hopes to start immediately following graduation and would like to attend Marquette University. In the meantime, she is enjoying learning all aspects of the dental profession through her experience.

“I’ve never had a cavity so I didn’t even know what went into a filling,” Dolan said. “I’m learning different instruments, how to sterilize equipment, etc. Everything I’ve learned about dentistry I’ve learned here. It’s a really good experience. In high school, I didn’t think going on to graduate school was an option. I’m extremely grateful that she’s [Wihlm] willing to let me come in and work here and get experience.”

Dolan also credits another alumnus, Lourdes Academy High School Chemistry teacher Barb Muza Reed (’74), for inspiring her love of science and ultimately her career path. Small, hands-on lab experiences were valuable for Dolan. Students felt comfortable asking questions and learning together throughout the year.

“Going to Lourdes and having these connections has helped me,” Dolan added. “I got the job baby sitting through a Lourdes connection. Knowing Michelle and being able to job shadow has been extremely helpful.”

“I encourage anyone to find someone they’re comfortable with to spend time with them,” Wihlm said of exploring careers. “The first meeting is always difficult until you get comfortable asking questions. The more information you can get ahead of time helps.”

“I see how Michelle is able to balance family and career and be involved in other things too,” Dolan said. “I used to look at a job as a far off thing. You understand people do it but you don’t think about what it looks like to live that life. This has taught me what that looks like.”