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Presenting: Dr. Rajiv Arya, My Cool Dentist
When your eyes are open, you tend to find wonderful and extraordinary people around you. My dentist, Dr. Rajiv Arya, is one of those individuals. Every time I go in for a dental checkup, we end up having a very deep conversation and I’m always amazed at what Dr. Arya. Not only is he a practicing dentist and a practicing attorney, Dr. Arya has volunteered his time and expertise in countries such as India, Malawi, Zambia and of course Canada. He is one of the most multifaceted individuals I know. Without further ado, here it is: Dr. Arya:
1. Tell us a little about your personal and educational background.
I am married and have a 22-month-old little girl. It has really been a profound experience to have him. I’ve found that just when you thought marriage was the best thing in and about your life, having a baby is even better. My life is generally relatively uneventful. The best thing is that I have a supportive family on both sides. I consider myself very lucky.
2. You actively practice as a dental surgeon and as a lawyer. Why did you decide to do this and what is your overall work philosophy?
I actually get this question a lot. Why did I go into dentistry and law? I think it was self-preservation. I felt that I needed another profession to give me the fulfillment or further satisfaction in my working life that I was looking for. It certainly wasn’t for the challenge – as both professions are very challenging. What one profession would not offer to another and vice versa. It was a bit of a gamble to make this choice. But it was never about making more money, or being uniquely qualified. I’m not as goal oriented as people would think. This choice was more about self-fulfillment and I don’t regret it for a second. The bottom line is that, yes, I have a busy week; but most importantly, I’m usually smiling and happy through it all.
What prompted me to go to these fields is carried over to the rest of the left. I try to look at life in a broader, holistic way. In dentistry I am interested in the patient, not just the clinical procedure in front of me. If there’s one thing I can credit myself for, it’s that I have an uncanny ability to remember details about my patients and clients for long periods of time. In check-ins, I’ll often comment on previous things they’ve told me and follow up on the details of their lives that they’ve shared with me. Sometimes I surprise myself, even more than the patients, how much I remember them personally.
I have an interest in my patients that goes beyond treatment, I look at my patients more in a holistic approach to wellness. Similarly, in law, I look at the client from a bigger picture. What are we really trying to achieve here? That way – all parties involved are grateful for what you are trying to do for them.
I’d like to think that I have a casual approach to both jobs, as I’m not a big fan of pretending, or acting like I know absolutely everything. I don’t appreciate the smoke and mirrors. I also try not to take myself too seriously. In both professions you encounter experiences that at the moment you just don’t know the answer to. This can present itself as a very challenging situation. I’m the first to say that we need to look at the situation from more angles and maybe bring in a different expertise. Clients and patients appreciate that honesty, and I find that they, in return, talk to me on a different level—a more honest level. It always surprises and delights me when my patients and clients ask and remember things about my life outside of work. It gives me some confidence that they care too. What you see is what you get. I’m not a flashy lawyer or dentist, no Armani suits here.
3. How do you manage to combine a busy law practice with your work as a dental surgeon?
I think achieving balance is not as difficult to manage as one might think. You need to know your limitations and priorities. My priorities have always been clear: I wanted to have a very strong family life and an equally satisfying professional life. In law, I am fortunate to practically only take cases that interest me. In dentistry it’s a similar thing – if something is beyond my skills or outside my area of interest, I refer it to other specialists. Similarly, I spend a lot of time with my little one. Right now, she usually wakes up around 5:30-6am and is in a good mood right away. Since I have the morning shift with her, I have to quickly tighten up and start smiling at her. Those hours are precious and more often than not, I always seem to learn a little bit from it every day.
I basically eliminate the extraneous things of the day and somehow everything falls into place. I must also say that I have a very supportive wife who is very organized and keeps things under control. My philosophy is “Just do it”. If you love what you do, if you love your life and want to maximize the limited time we all have on Earth, then you do what is important to you. Even during law school I practiced about 20 to 25 hours of dentistry a week and missed going to the pub every Thursday night. I also did not spend alone and drink coffee during the day waiting for the start of the next hour. I tried to maximize.
In general, if people really need to do something, they will do it. It’s the same with friendships – you make time for the people who are really important to you.
4. Please tell us a little about your travel experience in general.
Someone I know and respect recently said, “Life is made up of experiences. If I have to measure the quality of my life, I look at the experiences I can remember that have moved me.” Traveling is one of those things. Travel is one of those pillars in life, like marriages, births, deaths or other major events, that has the ability to move people.
I often, but not always of course, choose places off the beaten path as I like to see alternative places. Travel for me has to have a level of depth in general. It must be something that moves. It’s the closest thing we as adults can do to bring us back to childhood. When you travel, you look at life almost with the curiosity of a small child, you look at street signs, lampposts, the way people act. The journey has a freshness, it is childlike. When I observe my little girl, I notice that she is so curious and playful. Travel brings us to that level of openness. It is very refreshing, liberating and invigorating.
5. You have also volunteered in countries like Canada, India, Malawi and Zambia. Please tell us more about these experiences.
I have practiced volunteer dentistry in hospitals in India. I have also helped with such far-flung tasks as applying anti-viruses against trees in Zambia, visited hospitals in Zambia and Malawi, and even done dental work in Canada for troubled youth.
Volunteering in general is something where you always get more than you put in. This is a fact. A few years ago I went to India and it was not the happiest time of my life. However, it seems to me that there is nothing left in life when you are empty, and then when you decide to give more, you begin to fill up. This is a very valuable lesson for volunteering in general. It’s good for the soul. More than you know!
6. You have also participated in racial equality and leadership initiatives in South Africa, Poland and Germany. Please tell us more about these experiences.
These initiatives were actually started by my wife. She is a very vocal supporter of racial equity on the Toronto School Board, where she is now vice-principal. She always had an inherent notion of equality, even before she became politically correct. She always seemed to be on edge.
She always brought home articles written by educators or other commentators on racial equality. This gave me a little twist on how to see things. A few years ago she had an opportunity with a Catholic educational organization to go to South Africa. Since she is a big friend of animals, and elephants in particular, she said this is a good enough reason to go. She just wanted to go away for a few weeks. As soon as I started reading the synopsis, I decided to come too. Like it or not!
30 of us went down and talked to community leaders, went to leadership meetings, talked to interesting people who helped South Africa come out of apartheid. We visited many areas and it was an eye-opening venture. The experience was very moving, especially since the free elections were in 1993.
The group leader who took us to South Africa was already considering studying the holocaust in Poland and Germany. I had already been to Israel earlier and since the tour was organized at a very high level, I wanted to come. I have been drawn into this by people I respect and admire. That’s how it all started.
As the saying goes, ‘if you hang out with eagles, then you’ll fly, but if you hang out with turkeys…’
7. A few years ago you went on a very interesting trip that took you to the sites of the Holocaust. Tell us more about that journey.
I recently heard a commentator talking about the Holocaust and people visiting the sites. He said that there is absolutely nothing to learn from the Holocaust and we should not study it because it is so horrible that there is nothing to learn. While I appreciate his sentiment, with due respect of course, I feel I disagree with his comment.
What you see on the web pages is so horrific and moving that words cannot explain it. Everyone should see what happened. And not only here – also other countries – like Rwanda etc. However, there has been a physical preservation of it in countries like Poland and Germany. There are many preserved concentration camps and death camps. It is an experience that shakes you to the core. This goes back to one of the broader reasons for travel. Go and try to experience something because reading, video or other media cannot move you in the same way.
It was a very sad journey, but at the same time I tried to make it more academic, more scholarly, to try to understand what happened. I had the luxury of doing that. I didn’t have to experience it firsthand. But I ended up with more questions than answers.
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