Presenting: Dr. Rajiv Arya, My Cool Dentist

When your eyes are open you tend to find wonderful and extraordinary people right around you. My dentist, Dr. Rajiv Arya, is one of those indivdiuals. Whenever I go to have my teeth checked we end up having a very deep conversation, and I always marvel at what Dr. Arya is involved in. Not only is he a practicing dentist and a practicing lawyer, Dr. Arya has volunteered his time and expertise in places like India, Malawi, Zambia, and of course, Canada. He is one of the most multi-faceted individuals I know. Without further ado, here he is: Dr. Arya:

1. Please tell us a little bit about your personal and educational background.

I am married and have a little daughter of 22 months. It’s been a truly profound experience having her. I have found that just when you thought that marriage was the best thing in and for your life, having a kid is even better. My life overall is relatively uneventful. The great thing is I have a supportive family on both sides. I consider myself very lucky.

2. You practice actively as a dental surgeon and as a lawyer. Why did you decide to do that and what in general is your philosophy related to work?

I actually get that question a lot. Why did I get into dentistry and law? I guess it was self-preservation. I felt that I needed another profession to give me complete or a further satisfaction in my work life that I was looking for. It definitely wasn’t for the challenge- as both professions are very challenging. What one profession would not offer the other one could and vice-versa. It was a bit of a gamble to make this choice. But it was never about making more money, or being uniquely qualified. I am not as goal-oriented as people would think. This choice was more about self-fulfillment and I don’t regret it for a second. The end result is that, yes, I do have a busy week; but more importantly, I am usually smiling and contented throughout it.

What made me go into these fields carries over into the rest of my left. I attempt to look at life in a broader, holistic manner. In dentistry I take interest in the patient, not just the clinical procedure before me. If there is one thing I can give myself credit for it’s that I have an uncanny ability to remember details about my patients and clients for a long time. On check ups, I will often comment on earlier things they told me and follow up on the details of their lives that they have shared with me. Sometimes I surprise myself, even more than the patients, how much I remember about them personally.

I take an interest in my patients that goes beyond just the treatment, I look at my patients more on a holistic well-being approach. Similarly, in law, I look at the client from a bigger kind of picture. What are we really trying to accomplish here? That way- all the parties involved are appreciative of what you are trying to do for them.

I would like to think that I take a casual approach to both jobs since I am not a big fan of pretenses, or acting like as if you know absolutely everything. I don’t appreciate smoke and mirrors. I also try not to take myself too seriously. In both professions you come across experiences that you just don’t know the answer to at the moment. This can present as a very challenging situation. I am the first one to say that we need to look a situation from more angles and perhaps bring in a different expertise. Clients and patients appreciate that candor and I find that they, in return, talk to me on a different level- a more candid level. It always surprises and pleases me when my patients and clients inquire and remember things about my life outside of work. It gives me some sense of belief that they also care. What you see is what you get. I am not a flashy lawyer or dentist, there are no Armani suits here.

3. How do you manage to combine a busy law practice with your work as a dental surgeon?

I find that achieving balance is not as difficult to manage as one would guess. You have to know your limitations and priorities. My priorities have always been clear: I wanted to have a very strong family life and an equally fulfilling professional life. In law I am fortunate that I virtually only take on the cases that interest me. In dentistry it’s a similar sort of thing – if something is beyond my capabilities or outside of my area of interest I refer it out to other specialists. Similarly, I spend a lot of my time with my little one. At the moment, she usually gets up around 5:30-6am and is in a good mood right away. Since I have the morning shift with her, I have to quickly buckle up and start smiling back at her. These hours are precious and more times than not, I seem to always learn a little bit from her every single day.

Essentially I eliminate the extraneous things of the day and somehow everything falls in place. I have to also say that I have a very supportive wife who is very organized and keeps things in check. My philosophy is “Just do it”. If you like what you do, if you like your life and want to maximize the finite time we all have on Earth, then you do what’s important to you. Even during law school I practiced about 20 to 25 hours of dentistry a week, and I missed out on going to the pub on every Thursday night. I also didn’t just hang around and have coffee during the day waiting for the next class to start. I tried to maximize.

In general, if people really need to do something they’ll do it. It’s the same with friendships – you make time for the people that are really important to you.

4. Please tell us a bit about your travel experience in general.

Someone I know and respect said recently: “life is made up of experiences. If I have to measure the quality of my life, I look to experiences that I can remember, that have moved me.” Travel is one of those things. Travel is one of those pillars in life, like marriage or births or deaths or other major events, that has the ability to move humans.

I often, but not always of course, pick places off the beaten path since I enjoy seeing alternative places. Travel for me has to have some level of profoundness in general. It needs to be something that is moving. It’s the closest thing that we as adults can do to bring us back to childhood. When you travel, you look at life almost with the curiosity of a little child, you look at street signs, light posts, the way people act. There is a freshness about traveling, it’s childlike. When I observe my little girl I notice that she is so curious and playful. Travel brings us to that level of openness. It’s very refreshing, liberating and reviving.

5. You have also volunteered in countries such as Canada, India, Malawi and Zambia. Please tell us more about these experiences.

I have practiced volunteer dentistry in hospitals in India. I have also helped out with such far out tasks as applying bug repellent on trees in Zambia, visited hospitals in Zambia and Malawi, and even have done dental work in Canada for troubled youth.

Volunteering in general is something where you always get more than what you put in. That’s a fact. A few years ago I went to India, and it wasn’t at the happiest time in my life. However, I feel like just when you have nothing left in your life, when you are empty, and then at that point when you decide to give more, you start to fill up. This is a very valuable lesson about volunteering in general. It is good for the soul. More than you know!

6. You have also participated in racial equity and leadership initiatives in South Africa, Poland and Germany. Please tell us more about these experiences.

These initiatives were actually started by my wife. She is very vocal proponent of racial equity in the Toronto School Board where she is a vice-principal now. She always had an inherent notion of equity, even before it became politically correct. She always seemed to be on the cutting edge.

She always brought home articles written by educators or other commentators about racial equity. This conveyed to me a little twist on how to see things. A few years ago she had an opportunity with a Catholic education organization to go to South Africa. Since she’s a big friend of animals, and elephants in particular, she said that’s a good enough reason to go. She just wanted to go for a few weeks. Once I started reading the outline, I decided that I was coming too. Whether she liked it or not!

30 of us went down and we got to speak with community leaders, went to leadership meetings, spoke with interesting people who helped South Africa come out of apartheid. We visited a lot of areas and it was an eye-opening venture. The experience was very moving, particularly since the free elections were in 1993.

The group leader that took us to South Africa was already thinking of studying the holocaust in Poland and Germany. I had already been to Israel earlier and since the tour was organized on a very high level, I wanted to come along. I was pulled into this by people that I respect and admire. That’s how everything got started.

As the saying goes, ‘if you hang around with eagles then you will soar, but if you hang around with turkeys…..’

7. A few years ago you went on a very interesting trip that took you to the sites of the Holocaust. Tell us more about that trip.

I recently heard a commentator speak about the Holocaust and people who visit the sites. He said there is absolutely nothing to be learned from the Holocaust and we should not study it because it’s so horrific there is nothing to be learned. Although I appreciate his sentiment, I feel, with due respect of course, that I do not agree with his commentary.

What you see at the sites is so horrific and moving that words cannot explain it. Everyone needs to see what occurred. And not just here – other places too – like Rwanda etc. However, there’s been a physical preservation of it in places like Poland and Germany. There are many concentration camps and death camps preserved. It’s an experience that shakes you to the core. This goes back to one of the broader reasons for travel. Go and try to experience something because reading, video or other media can’t move you in the same way.

It was a very sad trip, but at the same time I tried to make it more academic, make it more scholarly, to try to understand what happened. I had the luxury to do this. I didn’t have to experience it directly. But I ended up with more questions than answers.