Connecting With My Past (and family pics!)

6 minute read

You know how life unfolds in ways that you never see coming?  Well I have a story to share with you all! This is wild.  I grew up in Idaho, and when you grow up over there almost everybody gets involved in the construction industry at some point.  It’s kind of fun, actually. Everybody is super-handy and used to hard labor.  My particular line of work growing up was concrete, and it paid the bills through my college years while at the same time providing me with an excuse to be with my buddies every day!  Picture my concrete crew as a sort of collection of buddies where nobody was “the boss” but instead everybody had their book of clients and the group worked together on everyone’s jobs.   

Now they all knew I was headed for dental.  And when it came to my final pour with the crew, that day was certainly one of mixed emotions.  But I came home for the holidays and would help the guys out as occasion permitted.  That’s when my buddy Colby started asking me about what dental school was like.  One thing led to another, and three years later I was writing his letter of recommendation to dental school.  

Fast forward another five years and Colby is a dentist.  This past week I had him and his wife out to Greensboro to check out the practice and see about coming on as a provider.  Never, ever would I have thought I’d be having this conversation with my old buddy from Idaho!  Just wild.   

Anyway, when you apply to dental school, they make you waive your right to know the contents of your letter of recommendation, so Colby hadn’t seen it.  I was able to find that letter buried in my Google Drive and print it off for him.  Have a read.   

Letter of Recommendation

Dear Deans of Admissions, 

My name is Justin McKinlay and I’m a practicing dentist since 2016. It’s early in my career but I already see how much it gives to us as practitioners, and how we should jump at opportunities to give back to it. Let me tell you about Colby. 

I know him from my concrete pouring days before dental school, 2009-2012. We worked shoulder to shoulder almost every day. I know him well. I battled with him in the trenches. We poured and hand-finished hundreds of slabs together in all types of conditions and circumstances. And even though dentistry is on the other side of the professional spectrum, all the lessons I took from concrete made me a better, more grounded, more committed dental student and dentist today. It’s actually excellent pre-clinical experience. 

Colby will stand out from his peers in dental school because of his history with hard labor. I don’t necessarily mean in class rank or clinical acumen. He may stand out there. But nobody in his class will have a deeper appreciation for the chance to provide for their family within the stability and relative comfort of the operatory. He will cherish this. He’ll see it as a blessing when everybody else is complaining about how hard life is. He will be the guy who shows up to the library at 4:30 every morning for the first two years without even batting an eye. He’ll appreciate the chance and he’ll work through his studies with perspective and gratitude. 

Colby has a tendency to look for ways that he can be useful to everybody else. That’s why he’ll be such a good dentist. He’ll want to apply himself because he will want to be as useful as he can be to his patients. While others may be taking satisfaction in awards and accolades and in separating themselves from other dentists, Colby will be taking pleasure in knowing his composites he just did for Mrs. Jones are going to last her a very long time. 

Of all the correlations between dentistry and concrete, the one that is perhaps the strongest is that most people can’t tell the difference between good work and bad work. It’s up to the professional to hold themselves accountable, which Colby already does. To me he’s proven. He’s the epitome of the ADA Code of Ethics. You really ought to interview him and see if you can sense it for yourself. He’s capable, hard-working, and he’s a stand-up guy. Let me know if you have any questions. 


Justin W. McKinlay DDS 

Isn’t it kind of nice that life is unpredictable?  I’m a planner too! But try as I may, life’s going to go the way it’s going to go, and I guess I like it like that.   

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