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Leigh, Lisa & Laura Schnaidt

Leigh, Lisa, Dorothy and Laura Schnaidt

Arizona, USA

Leigh, Lisa and Laura Schnaidt are sisters who independently chose to enter the field of dentistry.  Growing up, they all had different interests but ended up going to school together to become dentists like their grandfather before them.  Follow along with the "dinner table" interview of these interesting sisters.

What is your occupation and what do you do?

Lisa: I am a general dentist, twenty-one years in practice.

Leigh: I am also a general dentist.  I've been out [of school] twenty years, took 5 years off to raise "small people" and I am now primarily working with just children.  Typically children with severely decayed mouths who require advanced levels of sedation.

Laura: I'm an orthodontist... and a mother... and sometimes it gets confusing.

What were your favorite subjects in school?

Lisa: Science... science of any kind.  I hated math.  Anything with science in grade school and high school and then further along in high school, poetry and writing.  So the creative, artistic side started to move in... but always science.

Leigh: Lunch.  Biology I suppose in the early years, and in high school it was typing.  In fact, typing prepared me the most for all of school... advanced education.

Laura: My favorite subject was chemistry and I still like chemistry.

What was your least favorite or most difficult subject?

Lisa: Math, math, math of any kind!  Telling time and tying my shoes also gave me trouble.  Always math.  I worked the hardest at it and it was probably the most difficult thing to overcome in order to go on.  I still can't say that I enjoyed it.  The only thing that made sense was calculus, and it was all theoretical.  I did great in calculus.  Overcoming math took hard work and perseverance.

Leigh: Oh, Math!  Followed by lunch!  I never did overcome it.  I'm still trying to figure out the square root of a root canal. [laughter]

Laura: My least favorite was any time I had to do some sort of creative writing.  I just couldn&'t.  I'd get writer's block after the first sentence.

How did you get interested in dentistry?  Was it something you always wanted to do?

Lisa: Our grandfather was a dentist, so we spent time as kids around his practice.  I probably knew, by the time I was in 3rd grade, that dentistry was what I was going to do.  It didn't diminish my love for oceanography or marine sciences but it was one of those things that, very early on, I knew.

Leigh: I was 10 years old and I remember making the decision to become a dentist.  I was waiting for the school bus to take us home.  I remember standing outside the Wilsona School and deciding that was what I wanted to do.  But I never told any of my family.  For our 8th grade graduation we had up on the big background our potential occupations and dentist was one of mine.

Laura: I remember having a hard time trying to decide what I wanted to do.  I remember wanting to be an archeologist for awhile, and even dug in the archeological sites and did all that.  And definitely chemistry... so I knew I wanted to go into something that had science in it.  So by the time I got to college I knew that it was either going to be medicine or dentistry, and about that time I decided dentistry sounded better.

Dorothy [Mom]: She [Laura] knew back in about the fifth grade.  She told me early on.  She didn't want to be a dietician, and she didn't want to be an MD, so I said, "Why don't you be a dental hygienist like your Aunt Helen?  And this little fifth grader looked me right in the eye and said, "Why should I be the nurse when I can be the doctor?"  She knew then, way before she went into junior high school.

Laura: We also had an orthodontist (Dr. Boyd) we all loved too.

What advice do you have for students who would want to go into your field?

Lisa: I would say, if you can, try to observe in several different, working offices as much as you can to kind of cement your understanding of what goes on; to see whether or not you have the fortitude to sit and do this work all day.  You really need to get a good idea of what really goes on and not just think it is some glamorous field.  For little kids, maybe the best thing to do is invite their dentists and hygienists into the classroom to answer their questions.  Give them a little talk, but answer their questions.  Just sit around in small groups, so it is very personalized, and talk to them about it.

Leigh: I agree, they [older students] need to sit and observe in as many offices as they can and they can even work their way into a volunteer position.  It's a very expensive commitment.  If you go to a private school, you are walking out at $250,000 in debt minimum.  You need to be sure you really want to do that.

What special skills are required of a dentist?

Lisa: Very good hand/eye coordination.  Good depth of field because you are working in distances, sometimes less than a millimeter in depth, most of the time you are working in the dark and it's upside down and it's backwards.  You can't be claustrophobic.  It's very, very difficult.  Everything is reverse of what you are doing.  Whatever direction your hand is going is the opposite of what the mirror is showing.  If you are looking through the mirror and you see a dark area on the tooth to the left, it's really to the right.  [ So you have to move your hand in the opposite direction of what you see: spatial 3D orientation.]  The interesting thing in school was you found out fairly early who was good at doing bench work, because you could see it on the bench versus when you started working on the mannequins, having then to reverse everything into a mirror.  It got worse from there.  Much worse from there, because then you started having to attach more parts of the face. You need fined tuned tactile dexterity.

Leigh: I would agree with everything Lisa said, and you could have all those talents, but if you are going to be successful, you have to have a personality.  Because they [your patients] don't really know what you are doing in their mouth.  They judge you by how you treat them, how you turn them into a family member, how much fun they have... that's what brings them back.  Time and time again, that's what refers them in: that personality.  So, if you are a people person, you are 90% of the way home. If you can't stand being with people, don't go into this.

What was going to dental school like?

Laura: I thought it was very negative.  That was just the way dental schools are in general.  There's nothing uplifting about them.  You just kind of get passed that.  It's a stepping stone to do what you want to do.

Lisa: I think dental school would have been a lot tougher had we not all been together, because our strength always comes from our closeness.  We are like every other set of sisters, we fight and bicker and argue [and everything else] but when push came to shove, we were always there for each other, no matter what.  Without that kind of support, you really feel very isolated and alone in dental school.  Like Laura said, it's not an uplifting experience.  You are not treated as though you are the cream of the crop.  Instead of hearing, "we're going to make a dentist out of you no matter what," you are greeted with the opposite: "we've got sixty people on the waiting list and ten of you aren't going to be here in a month".  When we were going through the application process, there were 3,500 students competing for each seat.  There would be 85 seats in a class so that's what you were competing against to get into dental school.  Now they can't fill the classes, but at the time there was glut of incoming students.  So our family support group made it a lot easier on us.  You make close friends in dental school but it's not like having the support of your family.

Leigh: My path was paved by these two.  I didn't even apply to any other dental school because it was pretty much a done deal.  I was so prepared in my life to get to be a dentist.  I worked my butt off in undergrad.  She [Laura] did it in three years and I did it in three years.  When I got into dental school, I thought, "all of this, for what?"  It was so much easier than undergrad but it was such an awful experience.  I knew it was going to be, but the way we were treated, the way we were demoralized, that was such a downer.  There was truly nothing uplifting about dental school.  I work with sixteen other dentists now, who went to school all across the country.  None of them have anything positive to say about dental school.  I've been out the longest and we've got some that are just one and two years out [of dental school] and nobody has anything positive to say about it.  It's kind of the attitude of the instructors: "I had to go through it, you're going to have to go through it.  You don't like it?  Tough."  You need to have a sense of humor.

Would you do it again?

Lisa: No, I would not.  Knowing now what I know, I would probably go into a field that I absolutely loathe: computers.  Either programming or repairing.  Why?  Because it is a field that changes constantly.  It would constantly be challenging to me.  I don't see it as a field that will be dying anytime in the future.  I only see it advancing.  You can be as technical in it as you want.  It's the field I would be in if I wanted to be trained in something where I could then be in the military and do military computer stuff, which I would love.  [...See what I am saying?]  I think the field is so broad I could get as specific as I would want to get; as technical as I would want to get.  I would need something where I could use my hands, and something that could keep me interested all the time.  You see, dentistry is very challenging to me.  Every day it's different.  Every procedure is different.  This is why I love dentistry, but I wouldn't put myself through what I had to go through, again.  It takes a physical toll on you.  My back is ruined; my shoulders and neck are going; my hands are going.  It takes a toll.  So, yeah, I would go into computers.  I don't have one, don't own one, don't want one... but that is what I would go into.

Leigh: Prior to August of last year, I would say no, I would never have gone back into it.  I was in private practice for 14 or 15 years and it kills you.  You're on show every day, trying to get those people back in; trying to get them to accept treatment; trying to get it all done.  Then I went to work for somebody else, with 17 other doctors, and I am having a blast.  Every day is a challenge to me, I am really enjoying it, but I don't know for how long.  There is a tremendous comradery.  There is a support staff out of these four offices of about 75 people.  They are wonderful.  We all blend so well.  There is such respect for everybody on every level.  Whether you're in their cleaning the instruments or you are up there delivering the anesthesia... there is just such respect.  But, if I were to do something else right now... I'd go into probably baking, something along those lines.  I'd go into food.  That's where I'd go.

Laura: I've thought about a low stress job, kind of like a Walmart Greeter.  I think they're earning more money than I am right now, and they don't have to take work home with them!  Or... I would want to be a forensic chemist.  That to me would just be fascinating.

What are your hobbies as an adult?

Lisa: My favorite hobbies now would be photography, rafting down the Colorado River although I don't get to do that as much anymore.  I still enjoy writing, when I get the opportunity and poetry.  And just time to read... quiet time.

Leigh: Lunch!  Always trying to find it during the middle of a workday.  Right now, reading novels.  I've gotten into Crosswords [puzzles].  I like to stimulate that old brain.  If I can do something fun with the kids, that's good too.

Laura: If I had time for a hobby, I'd like to get a full eight hours of sleep!  I like sewing, cooking, collecting cookbooks... and I'd like to read something other than just getting through half a magazine in the evening, if I could.  And gardening, if I could get back into it, I'd like to do that.

What do you collect?

Lisa: I collect old dental knickknacks, my office is full of them.  And I have knickknack shelves up in the treatment rooms with just any old, dinky collectable thing, doesn't matter what it is; like old ink wells, old cigarette lighters and little pharmacy bottles and miniature perfume bottles and little tea sets.  You name it.  I've got my grandfather's identification bracelets and my grandmother's little spectacles that just sat on her nose.  Most are old family things, just little collectable knickknacks.  Purple glass is my favorite; any old purple glass and medicinal bottles.

Leigh: I collect lunch boxes! (Joke!)  I have a collection of Gone with the Wind dolls, thanks to Laura.  I was named after Vivian Leigh.  I have a collection of old Nancy Drew books, perfume bottles, things that look good in the bathroom, cake plates and cake stands.

Laura: When I had disposable income, I used to like to collect cranberry glass.  Now I have enough to hold me.  And silver, that was another thing I liked to invest in.

What is the relationship like between you as siblings?

Lisa: We all live under the same roof or within a mile of each other.  I don't think we help each other much out so much with work because we are well beyond that.  Everybody's life is pretty busy, wrapped up with children, family... we enjoy each other's company tremendously.  We are even better friends than we were growing up.  We do depend on each other.

Leigh: Aptly put, we're all here... we're within one or two miles of each other.  There is a pretty strong connection.  It's a tight connection.  It's just a phone call and it's a done deal, whatever needs to be done.

What is your favorite inspirational quote?

Lisa: "I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." [Robert Frost]

Leigh: "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." [Napoleon Hill]

Laura: "Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway." [John Wayne]

Mom, what were they really like?

Dorothy: Actually, I can really say that I never had a really difficult time with any of them.  They were great kids to have and I loved being with them.  I hated when they were gone for a week to their grandparents.  I never wanted to be away from them.  So here we are, we have come full circle.  I am here now because we just kind of all decided that it would be better to get together, since these two [Lisa and Laura] were floating around by themselves and I was too.  So we just decided we'd pool our resources.

Leigh: Here's the whole reason we got where we got in life.  It's this woman right here.  Our Mom.  She sacrificed about every cent she had.  She said, "You will not consider not go to college.  You are going to college.  You will succeed."  It is all because of her, where we are today.  Thank you, Mom.  We love you!

- 15 July 2003


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Last Updated:
16 July 2003

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