September 1, 2003
A Reason To Smile
Dr. Ngozi Etufugh
OCCUPATION: Oral surgeon
DUTIES: Performing dental implants,gum surgeries, biopsies, bone grafts, extracting wisdom teeth, administering general anesthesia, and maxillofacial (reconstructive) surgery
SALARY: $250,000 — $300,000
Out of 6,000 board certified oral surgeons, Dr. Ngozi Etufugh says approximately 100 are women, and refers to her personal pursuit of becoming one as a series of triumphs: being awarded the first dental scholarship by the Colgate Palmolive Foundation in 1992; earning her doctor of dental surgery degree at New York University’s College of Dentistry in 1993; completing her residency at Howard University Hospital in 1997, and then winning a fellowship to the Oral Surgical Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, a coveted award for dentistry students, the following year.
Etufugh, who was born in Nigeria, concedes there were many challenges, particularly from classmates and professors, those who should have offered support. One professor sarcastically told Etufugh her chances at success were slim. Her classmates chided that she had three strikes against her: being black, being a woman, and being petite.
Today, Etufugh operates two practices as a board certified oral surgeon: one in Hempstead, Long Island, and the other in Manhattan. A recent inductee to the exclusive New York Friar’s club, Etufugh realizes that her accomplishments aren’t typical of an oral surgeon, especially one of her caliber, who is also certified to perform facial surgery. Opening a second oral surgery practice can easily take 10 — 15 years. But, Etufugh has found that her faith, confidence and her interpersonal approach continue to contribute greatly to her growing practices. “Everything I set my hand to do, I’ve become successful at.”
Getting the Job Done. Etufugh’s bedside manner is one based in congeniality. She can easily transform a dreaded trip to the dentist into a friendly visit to see a close friend, as she spends time talking and joking with all her patients to calm their nerves — which in turn makes her job easier. Etufugh says that sometimes by the end of her comedic spiels, her patients are oblivious to the procedures they have undergone.
Education is Key. But, Etufugh does more than joke with her patients. She stresses that doctors should always present the patient with options that extend beyond a patient’s medical procedures to providing information about insurance. “Insurance limits what you can do,” she says. “I want to help my patients get good quality insurance because a lot of things are not covered in some plans.”
Keep Smiling. In addition to offering her patients good and friendly service, Etufugh said it’s also important that she be an inspiration to them through her optimism.
“You are the only one limiting yourself from anything you want to do,” is her mantra — one she offers others in hopes that personal growth will be their outcome.