How to Find Your Personal Identity in Your Career with Dr. Joyce Kahng
Rebecca: Hello, this is Rebecca Fleetwood Hession, host of the Badass Womens Council podcast. And I'm so glad that you're here today. I have an episode with Dr. Joyce Kahng, Who is a cosmetic dentist from Los Angeles. And the reason I reached out to Joyce, the dentist as she's known on Instagram, is because I found her on Instagram. And I don't know about y'all, but all the dentists that I've had in my life, none of them were really Instagram worthy. But what Joyce is doing really fits in with a theme that we cover here on the podcast, which is using your unique gifts, talents, and abilities. And we're going to hear from Joyce that even though she followed in the footsteps of her mother as a dentist, she's doing things her way, including virtual consults that she provides for free. You'll hear in the story that she found that while she was trying to capitalize on her time, even before COVID hit, she realized if she could provide free virtual consults, that people could get a sense of whether they wanted to move forward or not. And it saved her a lot of time, actually, in the office, which then later really served her well when COVID hit. So, just a really interesting story about how one woman is taking a very traditional profession and making it her own. Here we go. Hey, Dr. Joyce, thanks for being here.
Dr. Joyce: Thanks for having me.
Rebecca: Absolutely. So I found you on Instagram, which is where everybody finds a dentist. crosstalk She says with sarcasm. So I'm excited to talk about your journey because, as I said when I invited you, I really am passionate about people using their unique gifts, talents, personality, style in their job. And when I think of a dentist, I think of the dentists that I've had throughout my lifetime, and none of them were Instagram worthy. And you are the exact opposite of all of those. And what I love about what you do is it's not just about doing it for the'Gram. You're beautiful in your pictures, and the work that you do is amazing, but you really educate on Instagram as well, which I think is just unique and beautiful. So, tell us, how did you decide to be a dentist? Let's just go way back, and how did this become your career?
Dr. Joyce: In the macro? Yeah. So my mom was a dentist. So she was a female dentist, she went to USC way before her time when there was no female dentists, especially female dentists owning their own businesses. So a lot of her colleagues ended up just becoming moms and not really practicing dentistry, Whereas my mom ended up having a multi- specialty practice. She was a workaholic, by the way. I am 29 weeks pregnant, and I'm deciding what to do with my maternity leave. And she took two weeks off and I thought I'll take two weeks off. But that's the thing, is that when I decided to be a dentist, I was... Can you hear that?
Rebecca: Yeah. And it's just real life. We don't get upset about it here at that Badass Womens Council. We just roll with it as it goes.
Dr. Joyce: I was totally trying to emulate her ever since I was little. So that's sort of why I got into dentistry. It's just something that I was introduced to at a young age. And in preschool I just told everyone I wanted to be a dentist. I went through this whole track where dental school is traditionally four years of undergrad, then you apply, you go to dental school. It's usually four years. You do whatever residency. So if it's like ortho, it's how many years. I just did a general practice residency. And for me, I just knew so much I wanted to be a dentist. I went through in six years. Became a dentist at 23 years old in a very, very male dominated traditional field and had no sense of personal identity because I was a professional student. I had never lived, really, real life. I didn't have time to. I didn't get to join a sorority, fraternity or whatever. I didn't have the traditional experiences, but at the end of everything, I had the credentials. So people are always like," How did you do it so fast?" I'm like," I don't know if I totally recommend doing that." I had no idea who I was. And that's where the challenge started, because I graduated as such a young dentist. I was literally 23. Who goes to a 23- year- old dentist? And then as I was navigating this world, I'm also... I know people can't see, but I'm a young Asian female, petite little person. And it became really hard for me to advocate for myself as I was working for other doctors, especially with patients who really were not expecting to see someone who looks like me. So I guess that's kind of where it started. My whole journey is just going with the motion, going through this traditional field, thinking that it's going to be one way and then having to experience it as a woman who is just not fitting the mold, and feeling kind of lost for a long time, trying to figure out if this profession is really for me.
Rebecca: So you did have that question, even after knowing from the time you were a young child that you wanted to be a dentist. You went through a little bit of a crisis challenge around it. And I didn't even think about that. A 23- year- old dentist. You would stop and go," Uh, is she trained?"
Dr. Joyce: Yeah, it's so funny because I went through school, I was clearly good at school and I could be a high achiever, from an education standpoint. But then once I got to the end of the line, I was like," Oh my God, in the real world, where do I fit in with this whole dentist- ing thing?" It's no longer about credentials and it's no longer about doing well on a test. It's all about how you can be accepted by patients. And you can't really change the perception of patients very fast. That's the hard thing. And you can't grow older either.
Rebecca: There's only so many things that are in your circle of influence, right? Yeah. So what did you do? You're 23 years old, you've got this degree that you couldn't wait to get. What did you do?
Dr. Joyce: I did a couple things. The first thing I did was I did a GPR, which is a residency. In California, dentists don't have to go to residency, but I just decided I'm going to do this residency specifically in New York. I wanted to live far from my family. Just at least for a year, and live life and get a year under my belt. And I didn't feel like I needed to for my training, necessarily, but just so that I could go have fun in New York. And I loved New York. I totally would not have left New York if I didn't meet my husband there, but I loved it. I feel like that was an opportunity for me to grow so much and to be really, really independent. And I needed that experience a lot. The second thing I did was I became a professor at USC School of Dentistry. So, in 2014 I joined the faculty there. I started off as an adjunct faculty. And then I joined as a part- time faculty. And I was there until 2020. So, this year. This year is when I left. I was there for almost six years. And I think that really helped this perception of what a dentist is supposed to look like, from an educational standpoint, because if you go to an educational institution, the faculty don't even look like me. They're mostly older white male, which is traditionally what you think of when you think of a dentist. So I decided I needed to go show my face there, help students see that if they're also a young Asian female, that they could also come into the real world and own a practice, and do all the things... Or not all the things, but do the things that they really want to do. And it's not really a figment of their imagination. It's possible because there's someone else who's doing it. But also being a faculty anywhere is really helpful for your credentials. People start to see beyond what you look like, because they think you're smart, even though you were already smart. It's a really bizarre thing.
Rebecca: It's troublesome sometimes that we think there has to be some external validation of someone's intelligence. In this industry, we of course want to make sure you have the credentials and the know- how and all of those things. But in a lot of other fields, I think it limits us to think that you have to have that. I think that a lot of people don't get the opportunities that they deserve because we don't appreciate things that don't have enough education or letters after our name. In your situation, I want to make sure that you're well- trained to do the kind of work that you do, but I think in some situations it's not so great.
Dr. Joyce: I totally agree. That's why I took to Instagram, actually, because Instagram is such a great platform for really showing a story behind the face. So the pictures that I post, they're pretty glamorized, I would say, but it's just to get people to stop and read the actual content. The content that I put out is more of a reflection for future dentists to read, to know that there is a journey. And I've been through that journey and it's okay to have. How I've gone through school so quickly, and on the surface seem very successful, but yet I'm still going through all of these ups and downs as I navigate this career and try to mold the career that fits me, rather than fit into a career that I expected to be in.
Rebecca: And that's exactly why I wanted to talk to you today, because the more that we can do that and model that for each other in the way that we raise our kids, in the way that we recommend career paths for each other, I think is a beautiful thing, is to share stories, which is exactly why you chose Instagram, is to share the story. And I think we won't change the world through more data. We'll change the world through the power of sharing our stories.
Dr. Joyce: Exactly. I think so, too. And vulnerability too. I'm at the point where I'm not... I think when I first started my career, I would have been scared to share so much because I am battling not having a lot of experience, also looking young and being a new dentist. But now at this point, I'm 10 years in, I've had a lot of things under my belt. I really can stand there and just be super, super vulnerable about everything that I've been through, because no one's going to go back and say," You don't know anything."
Rebecca: Well, isn't it interesting? I felt this way early in my career millions of years ago, is that you think you're going to get to this point where you figure it out, and you don't even know what it is, but you think that everybody else that's been doing it longer than you must have it figured out. It's this elusive place of where you'll be comfortable. And what I found is I got comfortable when I realized nobody had it figured out. And you look around and you're like," Oh, so we're all just doing the best we can, and kind of winging it each day, and building on our experience a little bit at a time. Oh, okay. I can do that." And I didn't feel like I had this place I had to get to where I could check the box. Maybe it's the whole verified account is the symbolism for today. But all of a sudden, I looked around to people that I had respected so much when I'd watched them from afar. And then when you start to know them personally, and you start to hear their story, you realize that they're in that same vulnerable place too. They're just figuring it out each day.
Dr. Joyce: I think so, because when you come from a place where you're always... You designed your career to emulate someone else that you really love and respect, and you realize that's not fitting you anymore. You have to change. And it's funny because my mom, she's retired and she sees what I'm doing. And she's not a part of my business at all. She's very hands- off because we have completely different styles. That was hard for me to learn, actually.
Rebecca: I bet. Was it hard for her?
Dr. Joyce: I think that it's a little bit hard for her, in that she knows that I could be more productive. It's just not the way that she is, but she's also super, super proud that I've chosen a different path. For her, one of her biggest regrets is that she wasn't around as a mother because she was always working. And for me, I'm okay with giving up a little bit of my income to have a schedule that I'm happy with, where I feel balanced, and where I feel like I'm getting what I want out of life, instead of always just working. So in a way I did learn from her too.
Rebecca: Amen. And even if it means you learned a little bit about what you didn't want, as much as what you did want. It's still learning. That's still growth. And I think that's a really important message. I spend a lot of time as an executive coach now, helping women understand that we're not getting caught up. There's not this elusive place in space where it's just nirvana. You've got to create those spaces in your day- to- day life. So I talk about finding your rhythm versus productivity, because I think productivity is a factory word that makes us feel like machines, that we have to constantly be producing. And I, like your mother, wish I would have been more present for more things for my kids. I was traveling. I was busy. And I look back on it and there's things that I would absolutely do different. So I'm hoping to shape that for clients in the future, that they don't go through that same experience. But I hear you saying that about maternity leave now. So your mom took two weeks. That was it. And went back to work.
Dr. Joyce: I think she's from another planet or something. She's a tough woman. Maybe I could do that. I think that if I really had to, I could do that. That's the tough thing about dentistry. And you're using this word productivity. That's actually how we talk when we're talking dental financial speak. We're like," How productive were we today?" That's what my husband says. By the way, he's a dentist.
Rebecca: Oh my gosh.
Dr. Joyce: crosstalk I produced blah, blah, blah, amount of money today. This is what he says. And that's just part of our lingo. So, productivity and busy- ness is inherent in the fabric of being a dentist, and-
Rebecca: Most business would say the same thing, right? It's the common business lingo, is what are you producing? And if you're not producing, are you even valuable?
Dr. Joyce: Yeah. And so when it came to figuring out my maternity leave, that's the hard thing. I'm the main producer at the practice. I have a small boutique style dental practice. It's like private practice. I have an associate who is only there once a week. So if I'm not there, no money is being made and the business needs to keep running, but it can't because everyone wants to see me as the dentist. That's the problem. So there's a part of me that's like," Oh, I need to get back so that I can make money. And then feed..." Not feed." Pay all my staff, and make this..." Limit the ramifications of being pregnant. And then there's another part of me that just doesn't know how I'm going to feel. And so, actually, I'm trying to create buffers now into my schedule so that if needed, I can stay away for a little bit longer.
Rebecca: Yeah. Now, I could have gone back physically. I was in great shape for both of my kids. But I wouldn't have wanted to.
Dr. Joyce: Oh really?
Rebecca: Yeah. I took six weeks with one and eight weeks with another, with the second. And the eight weeks with my second didn't seem long enough because I was so much more comfortable in parenting and what to do, and I would have taken longer. But, like I said, I was also like,"I had a job to get back to, they were waiting on me." And I went back in eight weeks. But I can't imagine going back in two weeks. It looks like, when I was looking at your accounts, do you do some things virtually, too?
Dr. Joyce: Mm- hmm(affirmative).
Rebecca: So tell us about that. So there's another huge departure from the traditional dentistry that your mom did, even as an Asian woman, to be non traditional. You have taken it to a new level of innovation. I guess we'll use that word. Tell us, how does that work?
Dr. Joyce: Yeah. So I started incorporating virtual smile consults way before COVID. When I was teaching at USC, I was just so busy. I was so busy. I practiced at my office two and a half days a week. The other two and a half days, I was going up to LA and teaching. So a typical day on a Tuesday would be working at the practice from 7: 00 to 11:00, driving up to LA and then teaching from 1: 00 to 5: 00, and then getting back home like 7: 00, 8: 00, whatever it takes with traffic at the time. And I loved teaching, and I didn't want to give it up at that time, but my practice needed me a little bit more. And so to make time come back, in a sense, I started doing these virtual consults, so that I wouldn't have to be in the practice. And they want to know what's even possible. And a lot of the times that chair time is wasted because they just wanted to know how much it was. So doing the virtual thing allows me to do things at home and sort of weed out the people who... They have all the information and it's super transparent because I do it for free. I think more than being virtual, the fact that I do it for free is the biggest, craziest thing for a dentist because dentists don't do things for free. We're not in the business of doing things for free. But being on this virtual space on Instagram, what I've learned is that people do really appreciate when you come from a place of giving without expectation. And that's why that's my whole premise on Instagram, is everything that I write, every story that I put out is you just giving a little piece of yourself and that's how you start building those relationships. So, I think a lot of dentists had trouble getting on the virtual train when I started it when I started doing that. And then COVID hit, everyone was trying to get on the virtual train.
Rebecca: You're like," Oh, who's smart now?" Right?
Dr. Joyce: Yeah. And now everyone is still doing it as part of their lives. In a weird way, COVID has introduced virtual options to a very traditional field, and made people realize that it is quite possible. And it's actually a great way of communicating with patients.
I love that. And one of the frameworks that I use in my consulting business and when I'm writing is I talk about business is human, but there are two categories. So, business is all about control, measure, and optimize. That's the productivity thing. That's the return on investment of your time. That should be that way. But humans are personal, emotional, and social. And sometimes we mix things up and we think we, as humans, need to control, measure, and optimize our lives in order to be more productive. But I'm of the thinking that if we can be more human in our interactions, it actually improves our business, versus us trying to be machine-like and robotic in our human lives. So that idea of giving of yourself is that social connection piece where people say," Oh my gosh, even though we're virtual, this is a relationship," because we've got give and take of our time and our talent. And I think that's a beautiful way to do business.
Dr. Joyce: It's definitely a new way to do business and to think about things. And I do think that it is really powerful because, like what you were saying, is people are very emotional. And part of the hurdle of coming into dental practice to get something cosmetic done is they are very scared and they just don't want to come to the dentist, but something really, truly bothers them and really affects their confidence. So going virtual has helped those people kind of hide behind this computer and really reach out when normally they wouldn't. And I think what's also cool about it is that people do it at the weirdest times. Like at 2: 00 in the morning when they're supposed to be sleeping. They have a wedding coming up, or they hate their teeth, but they haven't had the courage to do anything about it. And they haven't been able to find a dentist that they truly trust and connect with. And so when I do the virtual consults, it's really low pressure. And they're able to feel a little bit more safe behind the screen before they actually come into the office.
Rebecca: That doesn't surprise me one bit. Well, I've even started this practice since being an entrepreneur, is I go to bed earlier, not because I'm tired or anything. I go to bed earlier because the demons of self- talk get really dark late at night. That's when you start to say," My ideas are dumb. I don't know why... Everybody must think I'm crazy. Why am I even trying this?" The insecurity of late night, I just learned was not good for my business. And I was like," If I can just get myself to bed a little earlier and get up earlier, then I don't have to deal with as many of those." But you think about that. That's what happens. You're late night and you're thinking about your life. And you're like," Oh my gosh, everything sucks." So it doesn't surprise me that that's when people all of a sudden are looking at themselves, going," I got to fix everything about myself."
Dr. Joyce: That's fascinating that you do that because I actually do go to sleep at like 8: 00 or 9: 00, which is very, very, very early for a lot of people. It's the joys of not having kids yet, I guess. And I totally can identify with being up late and having my mind wander into dark places. I didn't even think about that though, because I've just been going to sleep early. That you've been doing-
Rebecca: That's a good practice. And what you'll do is you'll just adapt. Your kid's bedtimes will just be early because your bedtime is early. Nothing wrong with that. But it really did make a big difference. And I set my alarm for super early. I love the mornings. To me, that's the fresh new day of anything's possible, and that's my best part of the day. And so the earlier I get up, the more tired I am, so it's easier to go to bed early. But I really do think there's something to that. Well, how can people get in touch with you, because I know you have a couple of accounts on Instagram. Tell us how we can engage with you after the podcast.
Dr. Joyce: Yeah. I'm super active on Instagram, @ Joycethedentist. I have a YouTube, but that's more of vlogging my daily life. I created that just so that dental students could see what life after school actually looks like, instead of... I just think dentistry is so glamorized sometimes. You start thinking of celebrity dentists and the elaborate lifestyles that we lead. And it's just nice to see something real and not super created for Netflix. I'm also on Tik- Tok, where I share more oral hygiene type of things, more geared towards the young people. Because when you get the young people, that's when, really, the magic happens. They start taking care of their teeth. And they're just very curious. I find young people are very, very curious. And part of being on Instagram and Tik- Tok it's... I feel totally old sometimes, but you have to go where the young people are because as I get older, I'm going to age out of my patient demographic. So it's just a practice of being where other people need you to be, not where you want to be. Yeah, I think Instagram is probably the best way to reach me. I'm really active on the DMs.
Rebecca: And Tik- Tok, my daughter's 19, she's a freshman at Ball State University. And we laugh because she just had a birthday in October. And everything that she asked for for her birthday was something that she saw on Tik- Tok, or Tik- Tok had marketed to her. And I'm like," If people don't understand the power of Tik- Tok in the advertising, they don't have a teen or a young 20s person there, because there's huge power there." And lots of times she'll bring things to me, tips, things that she's learned or something. And I'll say," Well, how'd you know that?" Tik- Tok. So it's not just dances. There is some interesting... Actually, fun side note, my daughter and I look exactly alike, in a freakish kind of way. And so she did a Tik- Tok where she was like," Hey, come here and do this with me." And we got over a million views because it's just so... She's doing her little thing, and then my face pops in, and we literally look exactly alike. And it was just funny and silly. So, technically, I have a million views on Tik- Tok.
Dr. Joyce: Yeah. It's crazy how things just blow up on Tik- Tok. And I love seeing when parents do stuff with their kids. There's something so fun about it, you just can't help but watch it.
Rebecca: Oh, we have a blast. There have been a couple of times where she'll have me learn a dance and we'll go out on the patio. And I know the neighbors are just like," What are they doing?" But we have fun. To me, that's the biggest part of parenting, is can you just have fun and not everything has to be so damn serious. So yeah, it's good stuff. It's good stuff. Well, I love what you're doing. I love that you are putting your story out there also for young Asian, petite women to say," I can be a dentist." Because if you aren't out there doing it and showcasing what's possible, then people don't know to dream bigger. I think in the days when I was picking a career, I only knew five or six careers because that's what my exposure was. There was teachers. I grew up on a farm, so there was farmers. There was doctors. There was just whatever I had experienced in my life. And now there's just so much more opportunity to say," What do I want to do?" Not just what have I seen, but now I can look out to social media and say," Oh, I hadn't thought about doing that." And so I think it's beautiful that you're being vulnerable, and putting not only education, but putting your own story there. I think that's how we change the world.
Dr. Joyce: You think so too. Thank you.
Rebecca: So when's the baby due?
Dr. Joyce: January 5th.
Rebecca: January 5th.
Dr. Joyce: New Year's baby.
Rebecca: Congratulations. Nothing changes your life as much as the first. You can have a couple more after that, but the first one is disruptive to life in a beautiful way.
Dr. Joyce: Oh, I feel it. I've transformed so much already just being pregnant, and I didn't even really want kids before. And now I'm very attached to this little person.
Rebecca: It is a weird biological change. There was actually a bet at the office that I worked in when I had my first child. Because I was so professional and so business, and I ran all these offices, and there was an over and under bet if I was going to be able to hack it as a mom, because nobody could picture me being a mom. And the first person that came to visit me at the hospital, Kendra, I love her. She just looks at me, I'm holding Cameron, and she was like," So do you know how to do this?" And I was like," I'm sure I'll figure it out. I already feel like I kind of just have some instinct about it." And it was this whole conversation about how do you do it? And it was just almost like a biological shift where you're just intuitively, just all of a sudden you're like," Okay, I think I can do this." But yeah, that always cracks me up. Because I ended up being a pretty decent mom to both my kids, but the bet early on was nobody was sure I was going to be able to hack it.
Dr. Joyce: That's how I felt too, completely. I'm the least like maternal person ever. I'm the last of all my friends to have kids. And I didn't even know if I wanted kids. It's so hard, because you don't know how to fit the kid into your life. And actually I changed my life to have the kids. I quit USC. I'm only working three days. That's like my max. And the other two days I'm keeping free. Do an Instagram or whatever. I have other income streams now that I've developed so that I can live this life with this kid.
Rebecca: Oh, good. See, that's a perfect example. I love that. That's a beautiful story. I was an only child and I was raised on a small farm with all uncles, my mom's brothers. And so there wasn't even a lot of girls around. I never babysat. I wasn't maternal at all. I didn't even play with dolls. I was out in the barn with the horses and the animals. It was a big shift, but it came pretty natural. So I think you're going to be a great mom.
Dr. Joyce: Thank you. I hope so.
Rebecca: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story, and I will include all the links to your places in the show notes. And so people can come and follow you and get all the good tips.
Dr. Joyce: Thank you. It was really nice talking to you.
Rebecca: The opportunities are endless to make our careers our own these days. I will include the links to follow Dr. Joyce on Tik- Tok and on Instagram. I think you'll find a lot of the information that she shares super helpful. All right. Thanks so much. Make it a great day.
We need to share our stories and our vulnerability with others. Sometimes we feel that we don’t “fit the mold” of our chosen career path, but if we share our journey, we can inspire others. When we make our careers our own, the opportunities are endless. As humans, we are humans are personal, emotional, and social even if we think we need to control, measure, and optimize our lives to be more productive. The more human we are in our interactions, the more our business improves.
In this week’s episode, we will listen to Dr. Joyce Kahng — a domestic dentist — as she tells us the story of how she took a traditional career and made it her own. In her conversation with Rebecca, Dr. Joyce Kahng talks about her journey of entering a male-dominated industry and navigating her career as a young Asian woman. She talks about why she shares her story on social media and her desire to inspire other women like her.
Listen in to learn more about how Dr. Joyce Kahng found her personal identity as a young female dentist and shared her journey to inspire others.