Austin Anderson shadows dentist in Leipzig, Germany

by   |  09.01.11  |  Honors Student Achievements

This summer I had the unique opportunity of traveling with COBA to study abroad in Leipzig, Germany and Oxford, England. As a Pre-Dental Biochemistry student with a minor in business, it was interesting tagging along with other ACU students who weren’t in my field of study. Going from study-intensive science classes to world-traveling hands-on projects was eye opening to say the least. God blessed me with wonderful Professors and an awesome group though. I was surprised at how easily I picked up on the material…and how universal the lessons were that I learned from the business classes I was taking.


One of the things I really wanted to do while abroad was to shadow a dentist in Germany. After working under several dentists back home in America, I was excited to compare and contrast German dentistry with our own. At first it was difficult trying to set up an appointment. I was given a contact number, but I had no cell phone. Trying to figure out how to use a German pay phone was definitely interesting (it consisted of me randomly pushing buttons until I heard a ring tone, while frantically putting in coins to keep the line open). When I finally connected, I was relieved to hear a woman speak English on the other end. Her name was Doris and she was a good friend of one of the Professors on the trip. Doris was kind enough to set me up with an appointment to shadow a German dentist who spoke some English. Later in an email she gave me the address, told me to arrive shortly before 8am, and to wear a white shirt, white pants, and white shoes. I didn’t know if she meant khaki pants and a white dress shirt or literally a white shirt and white pants (scrubs, maybe?). Either way, I had only brought khakis and dress shirts with me so I didn’t really have a choice! I didn’t think it would matter though, as long as I was close enough to the dress code. I was so thankful that Doris was able to get me this opportunity. Here’s what happened on my visit:



July 26 2011

I woke up at 6:30 this morning in order to give me ample time to get dressed and navigate my way to #8 Beethovenstraße before 8 o’clock. I planned out which tram I was going to take (the public transportation in Germany is awesome, by the way. Trams come about every 10 minutes or so), and began to make my way downtown. Along the way many thoughts raced through my mind. I realized I had many preconceived notions about what a German dentist office would be like. For starters, I assumed that much of their technology and methods would be outdated because East Germany had been isolated from the rest of the world under Communist rule for so long. Based on the level of English that the average East German civilian spoke, I also assumed that it would be very difficult finding a dentist who would be able to communicate with me easily. Boy was I wrong…




The front entrance of the office was beautiful and looked like something straight from Rome. When I walked inside, I was absolutely stunned. Everything was super modern, clean cut, and very nice. I introduced myself to the receptionist behind the counter (Stefanie), who was actually a dental assistant filling in for their normal receptionist. Surprisingly, she spoke very good English and we were able to carry on a normal conversation quite easily. She took me into all the rooms and answered many of my questions about  schooling, operations, and the office itself. She also pointed out that their lab was across the street, which is where chemicals were processed and patients went to have their teeth cleaned. Imagine how much money and time they must when the lab is 50 feet away! Smart thinking. Overall, German and American dentistry are very similar. While this particular German practice may have slightly newer and flashier equipment than the typical American practice, the fundamental methods used in both countries are pretty much the same. The major differences lie in the healthcare and schooling systems, however. For instance, a portion of a German’s salary goes toward state insurance, which covers basic healthcare expenses. Apart from that, you can purchase private insurance that covers extra fees such as ceramic crowns for around 20 Euro monthly.


As far as schooling goes, I learned that dentists are required to go to school for 6 years in Germany after passing their Abitur exam. The first 2 years are the same for both Medical and Dental students, then in the 3rd year they begin working on patients at their university. This means that people who can’t afford dental work will come to the university and can get discounted prices. Students must meet a patient quota though to pass, and must network with friends if necessary. In America, students must pass the DAT (dental admission test) in their third or 4th year of undergrad and get accepted into dental school, where they attend for 4-5 years. It was also very interesting to learn that to become a dentist in Germany it is not required that one receives his/or doctorate, unlike in America where nearly every dentist is a Dr.. However most German dentists who decide to specialize have their doctorate. From my business classes I had learned that it is customary to take off 6 weeks for vacation every year, and she confirmed that the two owners of the practice were out of pocket currently for that reason. This particular practice, however, served over 6,000 patients and was operated by 4 dentists (one of which I would be shadowing), so there were 2 on staff. I later learned that 6,000 patients is very large for a practice in Germany… nonetheless I couldn’t imagine the number of files they had on record. It didn’t surprise me that they were able to keep up with that much information though after seeing the equipment in all the operating rooms. Stefanie showed me through each of the 4 rooms where they worked on patients. Everything they had was state-of-the-art (High precision lasers, 3D dental CT scans, you name it…). In comparison to every American dental practice I had been to, this one had everything, and then some. Man, was I wrong about our technology being more advanced!


At about 9:00am Schümann (the dentist I was to shadow) came in to work. We greeted each other and he began talking to Stafanie in German while I just stood there. I knew they were talking about me, but I wasn’t sure what about. He then looked at me and told me (in English) that I had to be wearing all white in order to shadow him. Wow…so Doris really wasn’t kidding about the white clothes. Luckily, Schümann was nice and let me borrow a shirt and pants. Just my size, too!


I found out Schümann had been working for 6 years at 2 other practices before getting a job here, where he has been working for 3 years for a total of 9 years in the field. He did not have his doctorate, either. I got to observe him work on 2 patients, both older males. The first had a deep infected wound in his mouth that needed a chemical treatment. This procedure lasted about 20 minutes. The second patient was a great opportunity for me to see my first root canal. This procedure lasted the better part of an hour and half, and it was really interesting to see how he used the 3D x-ray imaging and dental laser. He was very open to my questions, and tried his best to answer them in his most proficient English (which wasn’t as good as Stefanie’s, but good enough). I stood there and took notes the entire time as he explained each procedure step by step. I could tell he had an enthusiasm for dentistry and longed to help his patients in whatever way possible. From my experience it seems that trait is common among all dentists, German or American. By the time the second procedure was over, it was time for me to get back to our flat to meet up with the group. I expressed my gratitude, changed back into my own clothes, and went on my way.


I’m so thankful that God has blessed me with this opportunity. In addition to the many memories and lessons I learned while studying abroad, being able to shadow a dentist in Leipzig has opened my eyes and given me a global perspective on a field that I express great interest in.