The dental school’s Dr. Flora Phipps spent most of her childhood on military bases outside the United States, which developed her worldview, impacted her favorite holiday, and continues to inspire dream vacation destinations.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I’ve wanted to be a dentist since the 8th grade. I knew I wanted to be in the health field, and I liked the idea of being a provider and working with my hands.
When you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up overseas on many military bases and, oddly enough, I dreamed of being a cashier at the base exchange when I was in elementary school. Let’s just say my parents are very happy I changed my mind.
What is the biggest misconception about your field/job?
The biggest misconception is that dentists cause their patients’ pain. Many patients come to us in pain. I understand that receiving the anesthetic is uncomfortable, but we are here to relieve your pain, educate you about good oral health, and encourage regular visits so you avoid discomfort in your teeth and mouth.
Tell me about an a-ha moment in your career — a time when your perspective shifted and shaped where you are today.
During my advanced education in general dentistry program, I had to work, interface, and teach with the predoctoral students. That’s when I first considered teaching as a viable path within my profession. Reflecting on my own education, I never saw any instructors who were young, female, or a minority. What really struck me was the thought that seeing someone with those characteristics would have reinforced that I really could understand all the nuances needed in dentistry. Realizing that I could be that person to someone else inspired me to pursue dental education.
What’s your role now?
I am an associate professor in the department of clinical sciences at UNLV School of Dental Medicine. In addition to teaching in the classroom, I oversee the dental treatments our students provide in our Team 2 predoctoral dental clinic.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I have three pieces of advice for my younger self: stop taking things so seriously; remember that not everything revolves around your profession; and take time to enjoy the life you have so you can fulfill your dreams.
What has been your greatest day on campus?
My greatest days on campus happen when I see my students finally get a concept and have that “a-ha” moment. Watching my students recognize and apply what they have learned and begin believing in themselves is very rewarding. And your toughest? My toughest days happen when I realize that I just can't do it all.
Best tip or advice for someone new to UNLV?
Learn to take everything in, and resist the pressure to be like anyone else. We are all unique and bring different talents to the table. It’s the collective group that makes us all successful. When faced with adversities, be innovative, positive, and a forward-thinker.
Give us a gear recommendation — an everyday product that helps you do your job or eases some sort of occupational hazard.
What helps me most are my loupes and wireless light. Together they magnify and illuminate the area that I am working on so I can better assess the problem and sculpt the tooth back to its original form.
What’s your biggest pet peeve at work or in life?
My biggest pet peeve at the office is there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all my tasks. My students will tell you that I respond to their email requests in a timely manner. However, just when I think I’m getting ahead, 20 more messages appear in my inbox.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m actually an introvert. I can be loud and energetic, and I love to laugh, but at the end of the day, I take solace in my alone time to recharge and re-energize for the next day.
What problem in the world would you most like to fix?
This is a tough question because while there have been many advances in our society, we still struggle with ensuring that all people are treated equally. I also hate how much plastic our country produces and how it's polluting the ocean. We need better plastic alternatives, or we will keep harming our planet.
My ideal summer vacation is:
My ideal summer vacation is at least seven to 10 days of relaxing by the beach or pool with a drink in my hand, listening to music, or reading a good book. Two fiction books I would reccommed for a summer read are Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.
What’s on your bucket list?
I’m a huge tennis fan and I want to attend all four majors — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open — during my lifetime. I also love to travel and am always dreaming of my next vacation. My current list of destinations includes Africa, New Zealand, Greece, Iceland, and Croatia.
Favorite holiday food or unique tradition for your family.
I love everything about Christmas — the cold, the decorations, spending time with my family, and, of course, my mother’s cooking. While I grew up overseas (my dad is retired military and my mother still works for the military), we were never around my relatives, although my mother still cooked as if she was expecting the full family. We lived on leftovers for days, but it was so worth it.
If space tourism advances to the point where a trip to Mars and back were possible, would you go if the shortest round-trip ticket was three years?
Absolutely not. I have no desire to go to space and experience weightlessness. Keep me on Earth with gravity, water, and natural resources.