This endodontist believes in cultivating empathy for those in his chair.

Marcus Johnson in his dentistry office

Marcus Johnson (DEN '08)
Endodontic Specialist, City Endodontics P.L.L.C.

What that means:
Endodontists are known for doing root canals, but I know the term “root canal” can have a negative connotation! Really we’re specialists in saving teeth. The root canal is the last resort. Generally, about 70% of my day is planned, and the other 30% is reserved for emergency cases—people who are in pain and need to get in right away. People walk in with a host of different issues and often walk out feeling better within an hour or two. I also teach residents at Interfaith Medical Hospital in Brooklyn, so I’m over there once every week or two.

Fulfilling a childhood dream:
I had a really great family dentist as a kid, very caring and warm. I was used to seeing him in a tie and a white coat, so he seemed to be on this untouchable level. But then one time I ran into him in the grocery store and he was wearing a sweatsuit. My dad always wore sweatsuits. I said, “Hey, Pops, isn’t that Dr. Ontiveros?” And my dad said, “Yeah, that’s him.” Right then it dawned on me that even though this guy was a hero, if he looked like my dad, then maybe I could do what he did, too. From then on I just kind of hung around the dental office, and now here I am. It’s crazy how things work out. To people considering a career in dentistry, I always say to start with the resource closest to you—and maybe that’s your own dentist or dental hygienist.

Best part of studying at NYU:
I was heavily involved with student government—specifically with the American Student Dental Association—and I worked in ResLife as an R.A. I always say that at NYU I learned how to become an effective team leader—how to manage different personalities and work with people from all walks of life to reach a common goal. Today I have my own practice with patients that range in age from 6 or 7 to 90, and they’re all from different backgrounds, races, and nationalities. Being able to relate to them and make them feel comfortable is definitely something I gained from NYU.

For every patient who walks through the door I think, “If this were my mother, what would I do?”

Cultivating empathy:
Probably the best thing to happen was that in my second year of dental school I needed a root canal! Being on the other side of the chair gave me a change to understand—up close and personal—the concerns and fears that patients have. Later, about five years ago, I had my own mother as a patient. She flew out from Denver for a root canal, and she was VERY anxious. I had to put in so much care to make her comfortable, to let her know that I was in charge but that we were working together, and that she would be okay. After that experience I started using what I call the the “mother litmus test.” For every patient who walks through the door I think, “If this were my mother, what would I do?” It has helped me to grow my practice. And that’s the key word—they call it the “practice” of dentistry because there’s always room for improvement.

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