Going the Long Distance
Teaching Students To Overcome Challenges with Persistence, Effort
While surviving the rigors of dental school is daunting for most students, Wayne Gardner, D.D.S., M.S., almost had his dream of becoming a dentist dashed by a life-altering accident.
“In 1986, I was 28 years old and a sophomore in dental school. I stayed late one November night to attend a presentation by a community dentist,” said Dr. Gardner, who was attending the Medical College of Virginia-Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
“Afterward, as I was riding home on my motorcycle, I took my usual route down a straight four-lane street. It was dark, and as I came to an angled intersection an oncoming car didn’t see my lights and turned into me. I flew over the front of my bike and slid to the sidewalk. I knew immediately that things were serious as my leg was lying at an odd angle and partially severed,” he explained.
Some bystanders indicated that his attempt to stop the bleeding by squeezing his leg was not working, so he used his belt and a donated drumstick as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding until help arrived. “I didn’t think I was going to die. I was thinking that I was lucky that my leg was my only injury.”
He spent a week in the hospital and then went back to his pre-clinical courses on crutches, and was fitted with a prosthesis a few months later.
When asked how he was able to return to dental school after such a traumatic experience, he said he really isn’t sure. “I just know that you can usually find a way to do the things that are important to you. You have a choice to laugh or cry. I knew I would not be able to ever play basketball or run competitively again, but that’s okay,” he said.
Dr. Gardner said he sees life as “an incredible long-distance race rather than a sprint. Your ability to focus and keep trying is what keeps you in the race. Things turn up here and there in your life that can make your race more difficult, but they can almost always be overcome with persistence and effort.”
“We are not all gifted with the same abilities. Everyone has challenges in life; some are more obvious than others. How we are challenged or gifted is often less important than our determination,” he said.
Since 1989, Dr. Gardner, an assistant professor in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry, has shared this philosophy as well as his expertise in general dentistry and the specialty of prosthodontics with dental students and residents in the School of Dentistry at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. He was named Professor of the Year in the Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program in 2006 – 2007 and won the Faculty Assembly Teaching Excellence Award in 2014.
“It really is a lot of fun to be able to work with the students and residents. It’s great to be able to see when they have that ‘aha’ moment, when they start putting the pieces together and they start seeing the ‘big picture’.”
“You help them correlate the pieces—the information they need to treat their patients. It‘s fun to see when they realize they knew the answers all along but didn’t know they knew,” he added.
Dr. Gardner also has served as a Scoutmaster for the last 18 years. He enjoys working with and mentoring young people and is very active in his church. He and his wife of 33 years, Karen, have six sons, who are all Eagle Scouts.
“I encourage my students to study hard but also take time to play. It’s good to have balance in life,” he said.