- Associated Press - Monday, July 28, 2014

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) - Dr. Peter VanBeck still works with his hands.

But the award-winning concert pianist has exchanged ivory for enamel.

VanBeck graduated from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester with bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and mathematics. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate of musical arts in piano performance from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.

He performed with symphony orchestras across the U.S. and in Europe, and won numerous national and international awards. But to him, something didn’t feel right. At age 31, VanBeck decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Robert J. VanBeck, who practiced dentistry for some 50 years, including 10 years at the InterCare clinic in Benton Harbor.

Peter VanBeck went back to school to become a dentist and now is working in the St. Joseph office of Dr. Stuart Boekeloo.

Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Julie Swidwa talked with VanBeck, who still plays the piano for enjoyment.

Question: Have you played the piano since you were a kid?

Answer: Since I was about that big (palm outstretched about three feet from floor.) Since I was 4 years old. I don’t remember liking it then. I just know that my older brothers played and I practiced when my mom told me to practice. I think it was about the age of 10 or so that I remember actually liking it. That’s about when I got a new teacher, Margaret Hegel, in Kalamazoo and she really helped me a lot to bring out my talent and that’s when I started to get a lot better.

Question: Talk about this transition from music to dentistry.

Answer: Well, after I was working for a couple years I was teaching piano lessons at Kalamazoo College and music classes at Lake Michigan College. I was performing at both colleges and at concerts around the area, and played concerts in Europe as well. I eventually realized that it was very difficult to make a living as a career musician. And … it just wasn’t the way I envisioned it … the glamour and the glory of being a concert pianist and traveling around the world. The reality of it is, being a concert pianist and traveling can be pretty lonely. And just teaching at a university, teaching piano, wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do. So I eventually started thinking about other careers, and I started shadowing my dad who was a dentist at the time.

Question: Was it scary making this change?

Answer: Not at first. I think the time that it was scary was when I was applying to dental school. Taking the dental admissions test … that was scary. And making sure that all my materials for the application got in on time, that my credentials were good enough and that I got all my classes. It was a lot to keep track of and a lot of stress because the acceptance rate is so low. It’s like 5 percent at (the University of Michigan). Only 5 percent are accepted.

Question: So, is that where you got your degree?

Answer: Yes - a DDS (Doctorate of Dental Surgery) from U of M School of Dentistry. That takes four years, after your bachelor’s degree. Before applying I had to take prerequisite classes, a few science courses that I hadn’t taken, just to apply to dental school. I entered dental school in 2010, and finished about two months ago.

Question: How did you land here in this office?

Answer: Well, Stuart Boekeloo’s father and my father were fraternity brothers. So I had known him growing up. My father passed away in March 2010, but at the time he was still alive and he told me to go and talk to Dr. Boekeloo, so I did. He wrote me a recommendation for dental school and then while I was in dental school I kept in contact with him, shadowed him at his practice and became interested in possibly working here. I thought it was a great practice and it’s a great area and he had sort of the same idea I did. He actually asked me before I asked him, if I wanted to come and work with him. I think it’s great to have someone to work with who’s had 28 years of experience. He’s sort of a mentor and a colleague.

Question: Have you seen your first patient?

Answer: Last week I had two patients. It was a great experience. The challenge for me was, time management. Because it’s different than in dental school. In dental school - we treated patients our last two years at school but it’s under a different setting - we had three hours for an appointment, generally. A lot of that time we spent waiting in line for the instructor because the instructor had to come and check us at our various steps. So being cognizant of the fact that I had one patient and then had another one coming in shortly afterward, that was the challenge for me because I’m not used to having 20 minutes to a half hour to see someone and go on to the next person.

For me it was more a matter of realizing what I can do for that patient in that amount of time. And … it’s a reality of the real world, that there’s a certain amount of time for everything, and you have to hope people understand that. You have to keep the socializing to a minimum. I want to be friendly and I love talking to people, but I compromise other patients if I talk for too long.

Question: You have said that before you switched careers, you kind of were moved by the difference dentistry can make in people’s lives. Can you elaborate on that?

Answer: I just have this image … I remember this one girl coming into my dad’s office when I was shadowing my dad at InterCare. She was holding her jaw and she just looked so upset and she was in pain, you could tell. She went into the appointment with my dad. I don’t know whether he took out a tooth or did a filling or both, but I remember she came out and she was smiling and she went back in there and thanked him and I thought “Wow that’s really cool. I want to be a part of that.”

That helped cement my decision to want to be a dentist. I wanted to feel that I was really making a difference in people’s lives. I don’t mean to belittle my career in music but it’s just a different type of change in people’s lives. It’s so direct. You’re helping people feel comfortable smiling, being able to eat, being free from pain.


Information from: The Herald-Palladium, https://www.heraldpalladium.com



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