Speaking the Universal Language with Dr. Robert Geiman
Orthodontics is a unique occupation, requiring both the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of the brain to work in harmony in achieving a solution. While it’s impossible to calculate which side does more, it’s hard to deny the creative side of the equation gets far more attention. Orthodontists are frequently called ‘a genuine artist’ or ‘a creative genius’. But when was the last time anyone heard an orthodontist referred to as ‘a true logician’? But that might be changing. When Dr. Robert Geiman enters the profession, the logical side of the equation may have finally found a champion.
A self-described math geek, Dr. Geiman is completing his orthodontic residency at the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry. How he got to this point in his career is what sets him apart from most orthodontists. Not many people can find the correlation between archwire selection for advancing a treatment plan and sequences and convergences in advanced calculus. But for Robert, math is the universal language that makes all things possible.
“Math teaches you to think systematically, logically and rationally. It changes the way you relate to things. In a lot of ways, orthodontics is a lot like a mathematical proof. How the patient presents is your starting point. You know what your endpoint is and what your objectives are. The challenge is figuring out how you get there.”
Going into his first year of college at Brandeis, he considered exploring either art or history. But as the child of first generation immigrants, his parents wanted him to dream big and take advantage of the opportunities they didn’t have while growing up in the Soviet Union. So they pushed him to take an academic path with more significant opportunities. Robert agreed to stick with mathematics, a subject he had an obvious aptitude for. It was a non-academic event that would alter his education. Early in his freshman year, Robert had his wisdom teeth removed, then experienced complications (dry socket) that plagued him for the rest of the semester. It was a bad experience to be sure, but it put him in regular contact with some good dental professionals who opened his eyes to all of the opportunities dentistry had to offer. That next year, he added pre-dental to his math major.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, he was accepted into the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. He liked that the school placed an emphasis on the didactic part of the education, and that the medical and dental students weren’t academically segregated. But there was another reason he liked the school—Columbia is also affiliated with Teachers College of Columbia University, one of the best teaching colleges on the east coast. Robert had always liked the leadership aspect that teaching featured. The way he saw it, this was an opportunity that, while challenging, would be even harder to revisit after graduation. So he made the official decision to augment his dental education with an MA in Dental Education.
“At dental school, you know everyone’s going to be smart. I was hoping that coming from a mathematical background would give me a point of differentiation.”
Robert attended dental college by day and took the education courses at night, much like a full-time employee might work a night job. It wasn’t easy. His math background left him with a lot of catching up to do in biology and chemistry departments. But he pushed himself and graduated with a dual degree in Dentistry and Dental Education in 2012. His next stop took him to Baltimore, where he was one of just four residents selected at the University of Maryland. Which is where he’s putting the final touches on his education.
With the conclusion of his residency now in sight, he’s on the cusp of solving the equation of what comes next. After graduation, he and his wife Tatyana (and dog Saba) will be moving to the Connecticut shoreline to join Child and Adult Orthodontics. “I found the practice via the AAO, and quickly realized that it was an amazing opportunity. I setup an interview and things quickly moved from there.”
While his math background sets him apart, Robert doesn’t want it to eclipse the artistic and emotional elements of the profession. Like every orthodontist who envisions what could be, he is also performing an act of physiological artistry, and changing someone’s life.
“I love running into a case that requires you to sit down and consider all your options and think it through biomechanically…and then you have the ‘a-ha moment’. But my favorite case is the one that makes the most difference in the patient. When you get to meet a kid who’s ten or eleven and they’re really shy. The kid who refuses to smile when we ask to take their picture. Two years later you can tell they’ve done a complete 180. What changed on the outside is their smile. But what changed underneath is that now they’ve got self-confidence. It’s so rewarding to be a part of that.”
Robert is eager to get started and show his new employers what he’s capable of. But that means for the time being, the teaching aspect of his career is going to wait. Of course, the one variable that can’t be solved is what the future will bring. “There’s more than one way to use a masters of education. Most people think of the traditional teaching model. But the use of technology in education is changing so rapidly. Who’s to say how we are going to be able to hold a lecture or create a curriculum in 10 years?”
“I look back on the educators and mentors who inspired me, and I’d love to be able to do that for someone,” he says. “Dr. Gail Schupak in Manhattan was my original orthodontic inspiration. I’ve been lucky to learn from the large number of faculty we have at the University of Maryland. Specifically, Drs. Steve Siegel, Marston Jones, and Monica Schneider who are not just excellent educators but also outstanding clinicians. So many of the decisions I make relate directly back to their influence and teachings. Those are the people I want to emulate.”
This article appears in OrthoWorld Spring 2015 issue.