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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 5 | May 5, 2005

Carpenter Picks up Dentist’s Drill

By Hilary Thomson

Same skills, different drills -- for Gary Wessels, the shift from carpentry to dentistry was a natural transition.

“I’ve worked with tools my whole life,” says Wessels, a former carpenter who graduates with a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree this month. “Working in reverse using a mirror took a bit of practice, though.”

Wessels has worked as a welder and machinist, building mountain bike frames, following his graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in zoology. A third-generation carpenter, he operated his own building company in Vancouver for three years.

When he wasn’t building or studying, he traveled north to work as a mountain guide in the Princess Louisa Inlet area of B.C.’s west coast. That’s where he met his wife, Robyn, a Canadian and UBC alumna.

The couple was married in 1998 and Wessels immigrated to Canada. He started thinking about another career where he could use his hands, work with and help people and run his own business. When Robyn’s dentist suggested a career in dentistry, he realized it would be a perfect fit.

“Dentistry represents a union of science and art, a unique intersection of the classic and the romantic,” says the 30-year-old. “Dentists address concrete clinical problems but also need to understand form, light and aesthetics.”

Wessels was accepted to UBC’s dental program in 2001 -- in the same week that he and his wife had their first child, Abby. Two years ago, they had twin boys, Noah and Cody.

“Without my wife’s support, I couldn’t have made it through school,” he says. “This has been a joint effort.”

Having spent so much time out of doors, both recreationally and professionally, one of the toughest parts of the last four years has been feeling “cooped up,” he says. So even with a hectic schedule, he tries to find time for running and biking.

Following graduation, the couple plans to move to one of B.C.’s small towns where Wessels will join a practice. Once settled, he plans to realize a life’s dream.

“I’m going to pick up my tools again and build my family a home.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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