Tag Archives: passions

More Than a Hobby: Three Dentists Talk About the Pursuits that Feed Their Souls

By Christina Boufis

You probably know that students, faculty and alumni at the dental school are a pretty passionate group, committed to helping others achieve optimal oral health. And you might think that teaching full time or establishing a private dental practice would leave little time for other pursuits. But that’s not the case with the dental school alumni and faculty members that we feature here. More than a hobby, all three have a soul-fulfilling, passionate project alongside a dental practice or full-time teaching load. Intrigued? Read on and prepare to be inspired.

“I am fascinated with esoterica and detail, and I’m also fascinated to create things that require demand and perfection. That’s why, of course, I’m a trained neurotic as a dentist,” jokes Peter L. Jacobsen, PhD, DDS, who recently retired after 30 years of teaching at the dental school.

That same love of esoterica and detail serve him well as a farmer where Jacobsen and his wife Gwenny own Jacobsen Orchards, a 1.3-acre certified organic farm in Yountville, California. But banish thoughts of a farmer plowing corn or soybeans. Instead, the farm “is a culinary dream works designed exclusively for chefs and restaurants, like the French Laundry, which buys 95% of our produce,” says Jacobsen.

Jacobsen calls himself “a farmer to the stars,”—“not the star chefs, but the Michelin stars, because every chef that I’ve worked for got their stars after I worked with them,” he says.

While Jacobsen is quick to point out that getting a Michelin star had nothing to do with him, he notes that there’s a “certain style of chef, one who loves the exploration and the journey of creating things that no other chef has. And I like to be part of that.”

“I’ve never been good at sitting meditations, but I’m always excellent at working meditations.”

Jacobsen didn’t plan on becoming a culinary gardener. When he and his wife bought the property 30 years ago, they did so because they wanted to have a country retreat and be closer to good friends. And what did Jacobsen know about farming? Nothing. “I had only one qualification relative to being a farmer,” he says. “I had no fear of dirt.”

The farm is amazingly diverse — 10 different types of fig trees, 10 varieties of pears and plums, four kinds of quince trees and several varieties of peaches and apples. In addition to 30 different kinds of tomatoes and 15 culinary flowers, Jacobsen grows more esoteric vegetables, such as oca (a root vegetable similar to a potato, but which can be lemony or sweet); crosnes (a small, knobby tuber also known as Chinese artichoke); or ficoïde glaciale (a succulent with thick fleshy, lemony leaves that can be used in salads). All of these “are the darlings of esoteric chefs,” says Jacobsen.

Jacobsen and his wife do all the work at the farm themselves (except for pruning the trees in the winter). The chefs do all the picking. “I love the outdoors,” Jacobsen says. “I’ve never been good at sitting meditations, but I’m always excellent at working meditations. And so the whole day is passed in meditation.”

In addition to farming, Jacobsen teaches a class at the Culinary Institute of America, practices general dentistry two days a week in San Francisco and continues to write The Little Dental Drug Booklet, now in its 20th edition.

“It’s not as though I’ve retired to the farm,” says Jacobsen. “It’s that this is another whole aspect of my life that runs parallel to my life as an educator and my life as a general dentist. I realized a long time ago the easiest way for me to describe myself is as a caregiver, and it turns out I’ve got a variety of skills — one of them is my dentistry, and that allows me to care for people, but the other—doing the farming — I get to care for plants. It’s like I’m living the dream all the time with all the things I do.”

Before she was a dental student at Pacific, Dr. Molly P. Newlon ’82 was a dance major at UCLA, where she started running track to keep in shape. “I absolutely loved it,” says Newlon. “So I just kept running and running and found it was a perfect way to relieve stress.” When she decided to switch fields to dentistry and began taking predental courses, Newlon would run laps taking her organic chemistry flashcards with her. “I would memorize an equation each lap and run 40 laps or 10 miles,” explains Newlon. “And I ended up scoring very high on my organic chemistry, so the running started then.”

For the next 40 years, Newlon ran anywhere from 50 to 70 miles a week. She ran her first marathon during her first year at dental school, where she was known as the “fastest female,” and competed in countless half marathons. Newlon won her first marathon in Houston, Texas, where she was doing a residency, finishing in an impressive 3 hours, 10 minutes.

Today, Newlon teaches full time at UCSF School of Dentistry, sees patients two days a week at the faculty practice and directs the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s new Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF) program that trains dental assistants in advanced procedures on the weekends. How does she make time for it all? Running. “It is the best form of stress relief in the world. It absolutely gives me more energy,” she says.

“Do it in the morning before work,” she says. “And your whole day will be better.”

Though years of running have taken their toll on Newlon’s knees, she still runs about seven miles, three days a week at Ocean Beach, does an hour on the elliptical machine daily and 100 sit-ups, as she has for the past 30 years to keep her back strong for the demands of dentistry.

At five feet, one inch tall, Newlon describes herself as a “lean, mean, running machine,” but it’s not the typical runner’s high she seeks when she clocks in the miles: “It’s a form of meditation for me,” says Newlon. “It allows me to center myself emotionally and mentally. I just block out everything and I’m able to really focus.” Sometimes Newlon will plan lectures while she runs; other times she’ll listen to French language instruction or just the sound of the ocean.

Ever passionate about running, Newlon has advice for those thinking of taking up the sport. “Do it in the morning before work,” she says. “And your whole day will be better.”

It’s not every Dugoni School of Dentistry alumnus who can say he or she received a golden ticket to Hollywood. But that’s the case with Dr. Matthew Hashimoto ’08, who was a contestant on “American Idol” in 2010. Though he was cut in the Hollywood round, Jennifer Lopez told him she loved his voice, and Steven Tyler thought he was cool because he is a dentist with long hair.

How did he go from being a practicing periodontist in New York City by day to singer in two different bands at night? Though he had no formal training, Hashimoto has been singing all his life, and remembers singing along to records his parents would play, but didn’t really get serious about his talent until college.

“I was always too afraid to get up on stage,” says Hashimoto. “I would get extreme stage fright, and not be able to sing well. I think it just took college to make me a little more comfortable with myself.”

After dental school at Pacific, Hashimoto moved to New York and auditioned for a few bands. He clicked with one — a nine-piece Stevie Wonder cover band — and has been playing with them ever since. “Stevie Wonder is one of my biggest influences,” says Hashimoto, “and when I was asked to join the band that was a big high point for me.”

Other high points were soon to follow. In 2009, Hashimoto appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, one of seven singers chosen from thousands for Oprah’s Karaoke Challenge. “I had a great time,” says Hashimoto. One of the judges was Gladys Knight. “After I sang, Gladys Knight gave me lots of compliments,” says Hashimoto, “and that gave me motivation to try to pursue singing a little more seriously.”

In 2011, Hashimoto auditioned for Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York, and, over the course of almost a year, advanced to each round until he won first place. The competition was stiff; the audience would boo singers they didn’t like off the stage. Hashimoto was never booed. Quite the contrary: “I think people were constantly shocked by the sound of my voice compared with the way I looked,” says Hashimoto who hails from Hawaii, and whose voice is described as soulful. “Just being able to sing on that historic stage where people like Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Night and Stevie Wonder all started out kind of makes me step back and feel how lucky I am,” he says.

“I’ll sing a little bit while I’m working,” says Hashimoto. “My patients don’t seem to mind.”

And has his musical talent and passion helped his periodontal practice? “I actually get quite a number of people coming to see me that I meet through music,” says Hashimoto. “And when my patients find out that I sing and have performed at places like the Apollo they let their friends know. I’ve also had a few patients who’ve come to see me who’ve actually seen me at the Apollo first.” What’s more, Hashimoto always has music playing in his office. “And if a song comes on that I know, which is usually 90% of the time, I’ll sing a little bit while I’m working,” says Hashimoto. “My patients don’t seem to mind.”