May 31, 2019

Eddie Pantzlaff, DDS, MD: Exemplifying excellence

Highly specialized training to match highly specialized goals

University of Michigan Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Residency

Eddie Pantzlaff, DDS, MD (right) is in his third year of the Michigan Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Residency, a unique combined program for people who have completed dental school and are looking to further their training in oral and maxillofacial surgery. This rigorous program comprises two years in medical school and four years rotating on surgical services.

Dr. Pantzlaff came to Michigan after completing his dental training at the University of Iowa. Here he shares how the desire to challenge himself while helping the most vulnerable people naturally led him to this career path, and why the University of Michigan is the best place to prepare for it.

What called you to explore a career in oral and maxillofacial surgery?

I knew I wanted to do the hardest thing I was capable of doing and to do it for people who couldn't do it for themselves. Eventually that looked like going into health care. However, I had a poor sampling of physicians when I first explored the career and observed that the work life balance didn't fit for me (I have since found amazing mentors in this regard right here at the OMFS department, who exemplify excellence in medicine and in their family lives). After that, I shadowed a family dentist. They were taking patients out of pain, giving them back their smiles, heavily involved in their community, and the whole time I was observing this, the dentist I was shadowing couldn't stop talking about how excited they were to go to their kid's concert that night. Following that, I shadowed an oral surgeon and realized dentistry held all of the rigor I desired in a career and the balanced life I needed.

Why did you choose to apply to U-M OMFS?

Michigan Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery was the first OMFS program in the country and has yielded a prestigious lineage of highly regarded surgeons who are clinically and academically excellent. It is a six-year, MD-integrated dental residency, as opposed to the more common four-year program. I chose to pursue an MD-integrated program to allow me to strengthen my medical foundation and pursue caring for the most critically ill patients in our specialty.

It was also important for me to train at a place practicing our full scope of practice, from craniofacial cases to head and neck oncology with microvascular free tissue transfers.  Additionally, Michigan consistently creates opportunities for their graduates to attain fellowship and academic positions that you just don’t see elsewhere.

What was the application process like, especially with such a highly specialized and competitive field?

Applying to OMFS is much like applying to a medical residency in that we utilize a match system. OMFS applicants take the NBME CBSE exam, which demonstrates a candidate’s ability to pass Step 1 prior to matching into an MD-integrated program. Then the actual taking of Step 1 varies by program, with some programs doing Step 1 in the spring prior to matriculating or others, like Michigan, holding it after first year of med school. It does add an extra bit of anticipation, wondering whether you will need to crack open your books again right after Match day!

How has the University of Michigan been a good fit for you?

Moving to Michigan, I did not have any family in the area. Fortunately, since day one the program has been like an instant family. They really do an excellent job of cultivating a positive culture! There is also a vibrant intellectual component to the program. The department does not require research, but the opportunities are certainly there.  

I have taken on projects looking at a rare head and neck cancer in our pediatric patients, head and neck microvascular free tissue transfer hematoma incidence with and without toradol, TMJ manifestations in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and utilizing virtual reality and meditation to mitigate pain non-pharmacologically.  

The department has been a wonderful support in these endeavors, sending me to the annual conferences for the American Academy of Craniomaxillofacial Surgery twice, American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, and American Academy of Dental Research to present these projects as well as funding trips to attend lecture series from prominent surgeons. That is just in my first two years. Bear in mind, for the duration of your residency most programs will sponsor just one trip, some will cover all research trips you get accepted and one lecture series, but I don’t know of anyone else who will invest in you in the way that Michigan will invest in you.

How does being in OMFS impact your experience as a med student?

At Iowa Dental, they incorporated the medical curriculum into our more foundational dental courses, having many of the lectures given by the same people who did Iowa Medical’s comparable topic. This allowed me to put a lot on my plate while still excelling in class during my first year here at Michigan.

Recently, Michigan OMFS revised their curriculum, and I am part of that first class. Previously, the first year had intern OMFS work and five months anesthesia, then two years in med school, then three years back in residency, with general surgery rotations scattered throughout the rest of the OMFS experience. Now, we front load the two years of medical school, follow that with anesthesia for five months, then general surgery, and finally with all of the OMFS contiguous.

This allows a better progression of skills, avoids stagnation of oral surgery skill sets over fragmented periods off service, and allows a higher yield time when we are on our service as mid-level residents instead of as junior levels fresh out of dental school. This is a model that I believe the rest of the country will find to be the logical evolution of our curricula, and I wanted to take part in that change here at Michigan.

What resources on campus have been most helpful to your education?

There is a strong mentoring presence here. I have worked one on one with numerous OMFS faculty and U-M Dental faculty on research and had excellent experiences with mentors from the Medical School in a variety of specialties who like to take an interest in their students.

Moving from Iowa, how do you like living in Ann Arbor?

Like most people in Ann Arbor, a bunch of us go tailgate for football games. Last year five of us got season tickets for U-M hockey. There is a vibrant downtown with surprisingly high quality restaurants and bars to hang out at or get a game of trivia in. Detroit is just a hop away for Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, theater, concerts, and a burgeoning food scene.

The weather, compared to Iowa at least, is very similar. Ann Arbor maybe has a few more inches of snow and a few more cloudy days with the lake effect. I got a house here on the west side (west is best) and my little pup Emmett loves to romp around all the parks and trails around town.  

What do you make time for outside of research and the operating room?

If I’m not hanging out with my co-residents grabbing a meal, I’m probably taking my pup on an adventure. Sometimes when you knock out 20k+ steps in a day though you just want to kick your feet up, order pizza, and watch Westworld.

What specific resources, activities and/or events would you suggest to prospective OMFS students?

Your CBSE score, research, letters, and maybe some other extracurriculars get you in the door.  After that, you’re in a room full of similarly qualified candidates. We will get a great candidate regardless. We are more interested in whether or not we will be a good fit for the next six years, so just be yourself and hang out with us on interview day.

What are your future plans?

Future plans include pursuing a fellowship in craniofacial surgery and an academic career. Of course that could change after I get more exposure, but a fellowship is my general trajectory.  I've already noticed early signs of grumpiness, so I should probably work with bright young surgeons who can keep any potential grumpiness at bay, haha.

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their training and/or a career in OMFS?

If you are committing to a six-year, MD-integrated OMFS program, make sure that you are receiving an excellent MD. Michigan isn’t just a great OMFS program. It is the #5 hospital in the land with an excellent medical school and excellent specialties.

If you are serious about academics, fellowship or a more rigorous career profile than extractions, Michigan should be your top choice. It was mine (and would be again).