Dental care

Russia and India are very different countries in every which way: territory, climate, population, religion and popular culture… ... And yet, are these differences really so important for people of the same profession? We are launching a new series of “Double Portraits” to investigate, and here are our first characters: Maria Korenyuk and Sunil Kumar.
Tell a little bit about yourself: What is your age? What is your marital status? Where does your family come from? What is/was the occupation of your parents? How and when did you get into this field?
It is not polite to ask women about their age, but Maria can speak about it with pride; she has achieved a lot for her age. At just 27 years old, she is Chief Medical Officer at a branch of one of Moscow’s large dental clinics. She has been in this position for a year already, and has spent five years in dental care.

Maria’s family comes from the Urals. Her parents are healthcare workers, too, but Maria says they did not influence what she wanted to be when she grew up. “They have always let me to do what I am interested in, provided that I do my best at whatever that may be. They have never forbid me from doing anything,” says Maria about her childhood.

“The natural sciences always came naturally to me, and I had to choose my profession while I was in high school, I got to know some university medical professors who had a strong influence on me. What I like in my profession is that it involves interacting with people and gives the feeling that you are giving something back, which inspires me.” Maria was accepted to the Smolensk Medical Academy, where she then took up medical residency with the Academy’s Medical and Biological Faculty.
Dr. Kumar’s contagious smile was broadened with my very first question. He simply said, “there is no problem for a guy to reveal his age, I am 36, just don’t ask a man how much he earns, and my smile vanished because in a few minutes I was going to ask him that very question.

He is married to a dentist as well and probably has named his clinic after her, Amulya Dental Clinic. She usually sees patients during the morning hours. They have a son who is in primary school, who sometimes hangs around the office which is a delight to most patients in the waiting room.

Dr. Kumar is native to a place called Anamkonda in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. His parents continue to reside in Warangal, his father is a retired Deputy Education officer and mother is a house wife.

From the very beginning Dr. Kumar had only one dream in life, somehow he wanted to become a doctor. And he worked his way in. He has done his BDS from Tamil Nadu and MDS in Karnataka and soon afterwards began to practice in Andhra Pradesh.

How much is your salary? How much do you need for food and accommodation?
A leader’s status does not always mean a high salary. As a regular dentist Maria earned twice as much. Regular employees are paid a fixed monthly salary, while the chief medical officer’s salary depends on a number of factors, including the clinic’s revenue and the fines imposed on the clinic as a whole, not the specific employee at fault.

Renting an apartment is very expensive in Moscow, and Maria spends almost half her salary on it, while another 20% goes toward food. Transportation is also costly: a one-way ticket on the Moscow metropolitan nearing $1.

When it came to disclosing how much a dentist makes Dr. Kumar plainly said that, “for a independent dentist there is no such thing as a salary”. The treatment style and package varies from patient to patient. There are some patients who just bluntly tell the doctor they don’t have the money for the treatment, and Dr. Kumar just smiles and says “you can’t fight with them for money, after all you are a doctor”.

When asked if what he earns is sufficient for his day to day life, again the cherubic smile appears only to signal to me that I will not be getting the answer I want. He starts, “you got to understand this…” and goes on to compare the stress level to the money he makes and says they are not proportionate with the former outweighing the latter.

What’s your work schedule like?

Officially, Maria works from 10 am to 7 pm, Monday through Friday, which is normal for Moscow. But in fact she works much longer. The clinic works from 8 am to 11 pm, seven days a week, and Maria often stays as long as the clinic is open, thus sacrificing her leisure time.

A tired smile comes to his face when I ask him about his work schedule. He generally offers consultation at many places through out the day apart from in his own clinic. His consultation starts in the early hours of the day and ends by 9 and during the day he provides his service at various hospitals; he reaches his clinic right in time for his evening patients who are quite persistent that only he sees them.

What does your typical lunch consist of?

“Of course I have very irregular working hours, but I do have my one-hour lunch break. I go to the café just around the corner for a special deal on their lunch menu,” Maria says. She does not like fast food, but she does have a sweet tooth: “I am very fond of sweets, I can’t resist them. I have low blood pressure, so I eat a lot of chocolate. Generally, I never avoid any food because it is bad for your teeth. Rather, my profession influences how I care for my teeth.”

By now the smile has become an indicator of either Dr. Kumar’s stress or reluctance to answer directly. This time I predicted it was the former. Dr. Kumar generally has fast food, being a doctor that would seem hypocritical but when I say fast food I mean it in the literal sense food that didn’t need long time to gobble down and then get back to work. He said that a traditional meal was a luxury he could not enjoy. He just usually had 15 mins to eat and could not eat much as that would lead to a desire for a short nap, one which he could not afford.

What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies? How do you spend your holidays?

Maria has a lot of hobbies for a person who has to spend so much time at work, For example, she likes photography; not just shooting standard, pretty pictures like the ones you see on postcards, but experimenting with combinations of colors or showing familiar at an unusual angle. “I can photograph buildings and a frying pan in my kitchen with the same inspiration,” she admits.

Maria also paints and sews costumes. Crocheting is not just a creative activity for her but also an effective method to soothe her nerves.

“Like everyone else, I also like watching movies, though, to be honest, I forget the film directors’ and actors’ names,” she says with a smile. “Exploring new places, walking and just looking around is something, that I won’t ever get bored of either.”

For a man who can’t spare time for lunch asking about what he did in his free time would seem insensitive. So I led him on and asked him if he ever thought of involving himself in research. He just smiled to me and said that, “when I really get fed up of all this stress I will take to research, as a lot can still be done in my field and I hope to contribute.” Browsing the internet and catching up on his reading was the only extravagance he indulged in once he reached home. There wasn’t enough time or energy for anything else.

He hasn’t forgotten his hometown and whenever the time and maybe his patients permit him, he travels to Anamkonda and sees patients over there.

“Many may consider this drive to constantly work as a desire to keep making money but I want to spread my name and the work I do, it’s less for money and more for recognition and awareness”.

What’s the best and what’s the worst part of your job?

“The nicest thing is to see that you have really made a difference. I tell my patients about all their problems, not just about those that brought them to our clinic. If they listen to me and work on their problems, this makes me happy. I don’t care how much I will be paid for that, because the most important thing is that the patient is happy and does not think that all dentists are enemies and torturers.

“I hate impudent and tight-fisted people who try to get the most out of as little money as possible. Another bad thing is that in some cases we can’t do anything to help the patient. It eats away at you when you have to tell the patient that a seemingly healthy tooth has to be pulled out, because X-rays prove that it is not.”

But this job does come with its ups and downs, one of them being the constant need to bend as the patient is in a reclined position; this causes a severe back problem and in many cases also leads to spondylitis. Dr. Kumar himself is showing symptoms of this condition but he gracefully accepts it as an occupational hazard.

Tooth ache can prove to be one of the most suffered pains of all and the ability to relieve this pain Dr. Kumar says is one of the best feelings that motivates. The satisfaction the patient shows at the end of the treatment also gives him great joy. But the reason why he rallies forward non-stop is knowing the fact that a patient walks out of his clinic with a more beautiful smile.

What is the opinion of people around you because of your job?

Many people believe that dentists earn a lot, while some even associate dentistry with business, not medicine. “At my institute, the professors made it clear to us that we are first and foremost doctors, and anyone wanting to be a businessmen should go into another profession,” Maria stressed.

But this is not the case with Maria, whose patients often become her friends later on.

There is a sheepish grin, when he says “Earlier doctors enjoyed more respect among the public, today this image suffers due to people’s experience with corporate hospitals and the treatment they get there”.

A patient just walked by then, whose father he recalled was a police man and he immediately quips that policemen respect doctors even today and perceptively said “Our stress is nothing compared to theirs, but you still can’t deny the respect you get, when you just say you are a doctor.”

If you weren’t a dentist, who else would you want to be?

Maria’s reply comes as a surprise: she had just been talking of her all sorts of hobbies, and now it turns out that she cannot imagine herself doing anything else for a living. “When I hear other people talking about their jobs, I think: “No, their jobs are not as interesting as mine.” I like everything about my job, beginning with meeting the patient all the way up to analysing the results of the work I did.”

All of us have a road not taken but the way Dr. Kumar sees it he is traversing both paths. If not a doctor… he immediately blurts “I would have been an architect”, I search for the regret in his eyes and my search ends as he says “I guess I became an architect of a different kind” and all you can do is smile with him in his contentment.

What’s your most cherished dream?

“As far as my profession goes, my dream is to get my PhD. As for life, I just want to be happy every single day.”

“I had only one dream in life from the very beginning, somehow I wanted to become a doctor”, he said and went on to explain how from the very start nothing else clouded his vision.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word India / Russia?

“Elephants, bright sun, lots of monkeys, many free-spirited people, temples, spices, brightly coloured clothes, dances from films…” – Maria says as she checks them off like a list. – “In general, India is associated with something bright. I would like to visit it, but I have not yet had the chance.”

“And I also remember my institute when I think of India, because we had many Indian students. The most extraordinary thing I remember is how Indian girls were coming to lectures dressed in sandals and sheepskin coats that their curator bought for them at wholesale, above silk saris, despite the biting frost with temperatures below 40 C. And our guard was trying to tell them that they need warmer clothes in such cold weather, but she could not make herself understood.”

Though he has never been to Russia, he without any hesitation says Gorbachev and Vodka in one breath. Gorbachev for all he has contributed to what Russia is today and Vodka, now that doesn’t need an explanation.

Double portraits: Earning money for meals on wheels

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