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Interview with Robert L. Sherman, March 20, 2005 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Robert L. Sherman, March 20, 2005
March 20, 2005
Dr. Sherman is a dentist who served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He studied advanced dental work, specializing in endodontics, at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Washington D.C.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Sherman, Robert L. Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 3/20/2005 Series: SENC Health Services (Dentistry) Length 57:40

Zarbock: Good afternoon, I'm Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. We're interviewing Dr. Sherman within the rubric of healthcare delivery systems. Dr. Sherman is a dentist and a specialist, practicing here in the Wilmington general area, more specifically in the Camp Lejeune area. Well, good afternoon, how are you?

Robert Sherman: Just fine thank you, nice to meet ya.

Zarbock: My pleasure. Dr, what event or series of events or individual or series of individuals contributed to your motive which led to the practice of dentistry?

Robert Sherman: Well, like most everything else in life, I am a summation of many accidents and events. First of all, realize that my mother was a nurse, a 4 year college-graduated nurse, and I think before I was born I was going to be a doctor. Uh... consequently when I was growing up, I was always hearing this about being, I was gonna be the doctor of the family. My father was a merchant, but no, she was--- I was gonna be her doctor and uhm... I'm confident in an effort to uh... inculcate their- their interests, I uh... started telling people I was gonna be a doctor. And I'm a little child, a little kid at the time, of course, and uh... little by little I uh... found that I could get acceptance, it made them happy my getting good grades and of course I--- and I was a good student. And I was not athletic at all, I uh... I was always the littlest kid in the group, and consequently there was--- this was my way of excelling, was to get good grades. Well and- and at that time getting good grades it was--- were they--- there wasn't computer science classes to go to with good grades so you go into some other areas, and one of those was medicine. And I really, as I got older, I realized I wasn't that particularly interested in medicine but I enjoyed working with my hands; I enjoyed the immediate gratification of building things. And uhm... consequently, I remember getting good grades in uh... in English class for example, by uh... building the Roman Forum. When we were reading Julius Caesar, there were a couple of pictures in a book that--- of these copies of Shakespeare that we were reading, and so I built a three-dimensional model of the complete Roman Forum that was shown in this picture and consequently, I realized that I enjoyed working with my hands and uh... and the immediate gratification that comes from- from these kind of projects. And as I say I had- I had good grades to go with it and uhm... kind of parlayed that into what became dentistry. I ended--- unlike a lot of people who go to end up in dentistry, I did not go to dental school, I did not go to college as a- as a medical student, a pre-med, I entered uh... college as a pre-dental student.

Zarbock: And where did you go to college?

Robert Sherman: University of Washington in Seattle.

Zarbock: And graduated when?

Robert Sherman: Did not graduate, I was accepted to dental school after 3 years. In those days if you had--- if you were strong enough academically, you could- you could apply and uh... to dental school, and they took a certain percentage of- of them. They take fewer and fewer now, I'm not even sure now, I think they're even looking--- they want a 4 year degree, but in those days you could get into dental school with a 3 year degree. In fact there were a few, very few, but a couple of kids in my class who only had 2 years of- of- of uh... college. But I uh... but I applied at the end of the 3 years with the idea, "Well, if they don't take me, I'll plod--- I'll go- I'll go and get--- I'll go ahead for my 4th year." But uh... they did indeed- they did indeed accept me in 19--- in uh... February of 1966 and--- I'm sorry 1960 uh... I said 1966 and uh... in June of 1966 we're in- we're in dental school and uh... four years later we- we graduate.

Zarbock: What was the application process like; did you have to carve little things?

Robert Sherman: Well, yes, you had to take an aptitude test. You had to take a fairly standard uh... fairly standard ap uhm... mental uh... vigors uh... sort of a test, but yes, in terms of dental aptitude, in those days you were given uh... 3 uh... 2 or 3 pieces of- of uh... I think it was one-inch chalk, about 1 inches in diameter and about 4 or 5 inches long, and they would-- gave you a diagram of what they--- and a knife that they wanted you to carve this piece of chalk to look like this diagram that they uh... that they had in the- in the- in the test manual.

Zarbock: Was it a timed activity?

Robert Sherman: Yes, very definitely a timed activity.

Zarbock: Stress.

Robert Sherman: Stressed, very definitely stressed, and uh... and I- and I apparently did--- and of course they never tell you what- what you do on these kinda things, but apparently I did well enough that they thought that- that I would be a- a good applicant. And there were--- and uh... I remember very uh... distinctly the uhm... the- the first day when we met in 1966, in the dental school in the auditorium, they said, "You represent 1 of 5 people," which is to say they had 75 of us and there were- there were whatever the multiple of 75 times 5 was total number of applicants, and so we were--- you were one of 5 so the- the stress--- again the stress, the load is on you to- to perform.

Zarbock: Now is it theoretically possible, or could you go into dental school if you did a really bad botch job of carving that piece of chalk?

Robert Sherman: I- I don't know, I've never been-- sat on any- sat on any admissions committee but I'm sure that has to be--- that can't be the only thing. Uh... there- there's gotta be uh... a lot of different things that they take into consideration, and- and that would only be one of them. Uhm... the- the funny- the funny uh... part of it is that you just never get any results, or not funny, but that's just the way it is, you never find out uh... and- and you--- everyone's got--- and we always used to laugh well how did you--- "Well, why did you go into dental school?" "Well, 'cause I liked to build model airplanes," and stuff like that, and you know, well, I guess that's true; I had my fleet of model airplanes, but any rate...

Zarbock: How many women were in your class?

Robert Sherman: Zero. The University of Washington had, at that time, had never graduated a woman in its dental school program. It wasn't 'til I got into--- more into dental edu--- dental school that we started hearing about the dental schools, basically here on the west--- on the east coast rather, that uh... they had a lot of women in dental schools, but not in this school. And I remember I- I have a long history of- of asking the "When did you stop beating your wife" questions. I remember very--- one of the first receptions, asking the Dean of dental school, he probably put a little red--- went back to his office and put a little red check by my- by my name, uh... asking him why we didn't have any. His name was Maurice Hickey, a very nice fellow, he said, "Well, Mr. Sherman," and you are Mr. Sherman 'til the day you graduated from dental school, you were never Dr. Sherman, and many- many dental schools, once you got to the dental school floor they started calling you Dr. in the presence of the patients, but not in my dental school. You were Mr. Anyway, "Mr. Sherman."

Zarbock: "In my dental school," yes.

Robert Sherman: "In my dental school there isn't room, we don't have a locker for the girls, for the women, so that's why we don't have any women." Well, now uh... women represent uh... probably 30 or 40% of the class, and of course that's presenting a whole new uhm... aspect of dentistry in this country because uh... as the Dean at Chapel Hill points out, it's not that he's not graduating--- they're not graduating enough dentists, but they're not getting enough dental hours. Consequently, the- the women dentists wanna have children and wanna have uh... wanna have uh... they don't wanna work 40 or 45-hour work weeks, they wanna work 30 or- or- or less, and the consequence- there's just a--- there's a general pressure, and it's gonna get worse with time because of the uh... because of the number of women who are in dentistry. So consequently uh... Maurice--- well, I guess Maurice was probably a little bit right when he wouldn't let women into the University of Washington, but they're in there now and uh... and consequently uh... that's kind of how dentistry has changed in these- in these uh... 35 years since I was associated with it.

Zarbock: So you graduated from dental school and what happened then?

Robert Sherman: Well uh... as soon as I got accepted at the dental school uh... I guess I need to back up a little bit. A friend of mine's father was a reserve recruiter, and he came to the high school during uh... I guess the spring of your high school year when everybody's making up their minds what they're gonna do now. And I was gonna--- I was going onto college, there was no question about that, and uh... as I say I was- I was my mother's doctor after all. So I was going onto college but a certain number were gonna go onto vocational training; a certain number were gonna join the military, and you had recruiters, military services certainly being represented uh... the Navy included uhm... uh... looking for people to join the Navy. And Pat, his name was Pat Tracy, he was a friend- a friend of mine, and Pat's father was, as I say, a- a recruiter, and I approached him after he made his pitch to get most of the guys who were lower scholastic performers uh... interested in- those who would be interested in the Navy, and I said, "Well, I'm not--- I'm going to dental--- I'm going to college and I'm gonna go to dental school, don't forget this- this is long ways away, but I'm going to dental school." He says, "Well, if you get in there, there's a Navy recruiter--- there's a recruiter--- there is a uh... there is an ensign program, uh... for- for you that you might wanna be--- might wanna consider," and he gave me the little brochure, as I recall, and that was that. Well, 3 years later, as soon as I got- as soon as I got accepted to dental school, I called him up and he congratulated me, probably didn't even remember me, but congratulated me anyway, and uhm... and he said, "Well, if you wanna join the reserve unit..." And the reason for joining the reserve unit was because I knew that I was gonna get drafted; I had the potential to get drafted if I didn't.

Zarbock: Were you paid to be a reservist?

Robert Sherman: No I--- there was a non-paying situation, all it guaranteed was, one: you were in the Navy, and two: as soon as you finished dental school and were given an opportunity to get a state license, which would be within a few weeks of your graduating from dental school, you're gonna go--- you're gonna be on active duty. Now I should also point out if you quit dental school, you're gonna be on active duty too, except now you're gonna be a white hat. So you- you were there one way or another, okay, (laughs) so you had that--- you had that to consider.

Zarbock: Despite the fact that you were not being paid, you were virtually indenturing your future?

Robert Sherman: Exactly you- you- you were gonna be theirs. The program's called the "ensign 1925 program," it was called an early commissioning program in those days, and basically it only promised that if you- you will be--- you will come on active duty as soon as you're graduated from dental school. And uh... that was it, and you didn't have to go to any summer camp activities. That changes subsequently, 'cause they- they did want you to start going to uh... uh... I think it was in Rhode Island--- Newport, Rhode Island, wanted you to go to a school up there for a couple of weeks. Which was a real detriment because uhm... in those days, dental school wasn't a- wasn't, uh, continuous through the summer activity. You went from, like--- it was like September through July or June, rather, and then you had a couple of- 12 weeks to--- that you could earn some money. Well, who's gonna employ you if you said, "Well, in the middle of this, I'm gonna have to go off to Newport for 2 weeks." Yeah, fat chance. So consequently uh... I didn't, 'cause I didn't--- I- I needed- I needed the money and uhm... and I didn't need to go this boot camp for officers-in-training type of thing, so I didn't go. So when I get down to San Diego, which was my first duty station in 1970, July of 1970, there were a couple of dental technicians explained to me how to get the uniform together.

Zarbock: But you must have been a mature sophisticated man of what, about 24?

Robert Sherman: I was 24, I was amongst the youngest in my class, most of my classmates were 26, 27, 28. I always tell people I was always in a big hurry, I got outta dental school at uh... 24, I was outta high school at 17, and then all of a sudden, look here I am, I'm all finished.

Zarbock: But literally somebody would have to show you how to wear the uniform.

Robert Sherman: Yeah how- how to put it together. It wasn't that hard, I mean those little doodads and boards and things.

Zarbock: But there's etiquette and all the rest?

Robert Sherman: Oh absolutely, absolutely. That was--- that- that I got--- that they gave us- that they gave us, as I recall, one or two weeks in one week, I think. One week of... let us call it "officer indoctrination," and basically it amounted to uh... we got to tour a couple of- we got to tour a couple of uh... different uh... sailing vessels in uh... in San Diego. And of course, needless to say, San Diego was a huge collection of vessels to- to uh... to- to tour, if you wanted to. And I remember going into a uh... a diesel submarine on a--- and I thought to myself, John Wayne could have never gotten into one of these suckers. I always hit my head on things, I'm 5'5. Anyway, but uh... it was an interesting experience and uh... and then we went on to be a dentist in the Navy for- for uh... for a couple of years.

Zarbock: Were you on shipboard or were you on land?

Robert Sherman: I was always--- I was stationed at Naval Training Center, San Diego, which is now closed uh... and uh... closed in the early- early--- I think in the late 80's actually, but uhm... and nothing makes you feel older when they start closing the bases that you were at, I can assure you. Uhm... it was a Naval Training Center; was a base that start as a--- started as an outgrowth of World War II and, uh... all full of stucco buildings, and- and that sort of thing, was a pretty base, and the property was absolutely beautiful, it was right down on San Diego Bay, so I'm sure- I'm sure some developer got a good- got a good- got a good deal on that. But uh... at the end of- of my two-year obligation I uhm... uh... I'm now 26, I'm single, living in the BOQ. I have a television; I got it out of my father's pawn shop, and a stereo I got from his pawn shop. I got a few clothes and there's some dentist textbooks that are going out of date quickly. Nothing- nothing's more dated then textbooks, and I'm thinking, now what do I need, uh... what do I wanna do here. So I go back up to uh... Seattle, and uh... in those days and probably still is, you found an office to work in or- or the uh... or you found an associate through the dental supply companies. So I went to the dental supply outfit, the major one in- in Seattle, and he took me around. There was snow on the ground; I'm coming from San Diego where it's nice and warm, and it was February, as I say, but there's snow on the ground in Seattle, and I'm--- and my mother's very happy to get me back, as she felt I was strictly on loan to the Navy and uhm... and uhm... my- "My son the doctor's home." And uhm... I'm thinking, "What do I need this for?" And I'm- I'm 20--- I'm 26 years old, I have no particular reason to go into private practice yet, I have no obligations, I'm not married as I said and uhm... so I uh... so I went back to San Diego and I talked to the Commanding Officer of the dental group, and I can honestly tell you, sir, I was not his star pupil, his star dentist. I am underneath it all, I'm a liberal, I am a flower-child, uh... I'm really not cut of Navy cloth. Uhm... you know, he knew that and we- we both knew that. He's a Korean War veteran and- and- and- and so consequently we both go--- we're coming at this Navy career business from totally different... picture and uh... but the- the long and the short of it is that, well, the Vietnam War is still on. It's 1972, the Vietnam War is still on, and he gets a couple of gold stars by his name if he can get me to reenlist, or extend is what it amounted to, not reenlist, 'cause active duty uh... enlisted people reenlist uh... officers have a contract, and I had completed my contract, it was only 2 years. So, but I could extend and uh... so he reluctantly,, and I underline the word reluctantly, called Washington DC and came back with a few offers of where they would send me if I chose.

Zarbock: Through gritted teeth. This is not a dental joke, by the way.

Robert Sherman: Through gritted teeth, exactly. Uh... not because you really wanted to, but because it was like... 'cause there was a war on and we're still, you know, we're still killing people and they're still killing us in Vietnam, and uhm... and the places he suggested, one was Vietnam, not surprisingly; there was Okinawa, then there was Guam, and then there was Guam aboard a ship, which was a submarine tender, which never went to sea, it was totally unseaworthy, and a third, or fifth or whatever we're on, was the Philippines, Subic Bay. Well, I looked at a map and it seemed to me that if you considered Subic Bay, the Philippines the hub of a fan, you could go off to Japan, you could go off to Thailand, you can go off to Bangkok, you can go off to Burma, you can go south to Australia. I was strictly going for another 18-month extension to travel, I mean that's- that's the truth of the matter, I wasn't gonna make a career outta this, I was just-- - I wanted to do a little traveling before I went into private practice and I figured, "Well, here's a way to do it." And so I selected the Philippines, and they cut me orders to the Philippines, and July of 1972 I'm in the Philippines, and the Philippines is in the midst of a tremendous monsoon season, they had something like 74 inches of rain in a 30 day period, just basically a mess, never been that much rain I don't think ever since that time. But the whole city, the whole area's completely flooded, and I remember getting down there in the- the tires are in the bus, and you know how big a tire is on a bus, the tires are in water, okay, going down- down to- down to the base. Anyway, so I get there and uhm... it's--- and I and uh... I remember walking to the clinic, which was only--- I stayed--- went to--- was in the BOQ, it was a BOQ that you shared uh... a bathroom, a head if you will, with- with the room next door, and it was a room that uh... well, I bought a- a 9 x 12 carpet and part of the carpet was being used as wallpaper because the room was not big enough to support 9 x 12, uh... there was not that much room in the- in the rooms, so you get an idea how big it was. Anyway, uhm... I remember going uh... going over to the clinic with my pants rolled up and my shoes in my hand and an umbrella, which was totally unmilitary, an officer was not to carry an umbrella. Well, tough, I carried an umbrella. As I said, I was a flower child. So I get the- get to the clinic and I dry my feet off and put--- roll my pants down and- and that's how it was for the first few days--- few weeks that I was actually in the Philippines. Eventually, the teachers come back, the teachers were on a--- what was called a one-year contract because of the nature of- of the Philippine duty. It was considered hardship duty for the civilian Department of Defense school teachers so they were only uh... contracted a year at a time, which meant they got the opportunity to home each summer. So August comes, the latter part of August, and the teachers are coming back, and that's when uh... I met my wife who was also living in the BOQ as a civilian. Some of the teachers, of course, were married, and then most of the cases the teachers were married to another teacher; they would go traveling throughout, you know, southeast Asia during the summer months and come back to the Philippines when the- when the school year started. But Lucy, my wife, went home to Chicago with her fam--- to be with her family, and uh... consequently uh... we met, and there were about 50 of us who were stationed over there who were single, the rest of them were married, neither the teachers and/or the officers were married, uhm... and the- the 50 of us who were single, I'm talking about officers and civilians, most of them, teachers uh... would kinda pal around, we'd have beach barbecues, there's a beautiful setting, it really, really is, it's a beautiful, beautiful place. Another base that was closed since- since uh... since- since--- while I was on active duty was another- another- another stake in my heart, was closing of Subic Bay. It was turned over to the Philippine government, who turned it over to Japanese, who used it for a- a- a boat building facility--- a vessel uh... ocean-going vessel building- building facility. Anyway, uh... to make a long story short, we started seeing more of each other and less of the group and eventually we got married there in the Philippines, uhm... and that in itself was kind of an interesting experience, because most of the time when you got married in the Philippines uh... you would be marrying a Philippina, who would be a Catholic, and so her- her church would provide the setting for the wedding. The American chaplains were not authorized to perform weddings on base, or anywhere else for that matter, primarily because the uh... Navy or the Military didn't wanna get slapped with a suit when the mother received her Philippina new--- her new Philippina daughter in law, with two or three children trailing behind her, and the son is 18 or 19 years old, you know, he's found--- you found love for the first time. So instead of getting themselves uh... involved in- in- in the legal ramifications of that mess, Chaplains just didn't--- could not and would not perform weddings. So anyway, so as I say, the girls were- were--- how Catholic they were is another issue but at least they--- there was a church and they would--- the guys would marry them in their Catholic church. Well, neither one of us are Catholic, and so we became faced with the issue of how to- how to get married. So, well, the judges are authorized to do weddings but they don't do 'em very often because, as I say, there's no need to. So we found a judge who would do--- perform a civil wedding, and we went to his office in Alongapo. Alongapo was the city outside of Subic Bay, Naval Base and is--- it is uh... his- his uh... judge's chambers were on the second floor of this building, that's strong--- it's probably--- I've never been to the Tijuana jail, but I have a hunch that must be what it must be like, this wafting of the strong urine smell wafting up to the second floor of his--- of- of this building, wooden building as recall.

Zarbock: Tends to reduce the romanticism of the moment though.

Robert Sherman: Hence reduced the romanticism. I actually brought a chaplain friend of mine and his wife out with us. We needed witnesses, so we brought out--- I brought out a chaplain friend of mine and he was just there as a witness, and Lucy brought her- her roommate who was a teacher and-- a fellow teacher-- and we got married, and the judge--- the first words, and you kinda have to--- and we have pictures of this huge banner--- you have to remember that Marcos had already declared martial law back in uh... July of 72, and uh... at that- at that point was still a good person, I mean it was a good thing that he had declared martial law. But anyway the- the- the huge banner sitting behind the judge's desk from wall to wall, and the room was so small that the desk was--- and the desk was so huge, it basically took up the whole room, we could barely be inside the door and stand in front of the desk, and the first things that came out of his mouth were--- out of this- out of this uh... Justice of the Peace's mouth--- judge's mouth, were, "Here in the Philippines we do not believe in divorce, so as long as you're living in the Philippines you cannot get divorced." This is no- no dearly beloved, no nothing, "As long as you're in the Philippines you cannot get divorced," okay, that sounded like a reasonably good idea to me at the time, and it still does for that matter.

Zarbock: Let me take you into sort of a side eddy here, basically and essentially as I understand it, your clinical practice was with probably men and women, young and relatively healthy. I mean that's not much of a spread of experience is it?

Robert Sherman: Exactly, in fact they- they weren't- they weren't dentally that healthy to be honest, uhm... these are the days, fluoride is in the water, though there are plenty of--- there were plenty of uh... dental--- plenty of communities that did not have fluoride. Nowadays uh... dental health is a much- much- much- much--- in much- much better shape than it is--- was in those days. In 1970 uh... dental health was a big issue and uh... I learned- I learned what full mouth amal--- full arch amalgams were all about, the typical kid, number one he'd never been to a dentist in his life, or if he'd been to a dentist it was only for an extraction and he might need uh... 15 or--- 10 or 15, maybe even 20 fillings and that was not- and that was not terribly out of the ordinary and uh... I had been taught, you know, in dental school you're taught--- University of Washington and I presume every other dental school too uh... wants you to uh... achieve the highest possible level of quality, make it an absolute art project, I mean you could spend hours just making a filling look beautiful like a model. Well when you're faced with, you know, this much destruction--- this much damaged teeth, it--- the- the dental assistants taught me how to be- how to become a much faster dentist than I had been trained to be in dental school, I could tell you that in a heartbeat 'cause they- 'cause they wanted- they wanted to go to lunch. (laughs) They wanna stay on schedule, so we- we learned how to do it--- we learned a lot faster and a lot more efficiently.

Zarbock: But you were dealing essentially with a cohort population.

Robert Sherman: Yes we were dealing with young kids.

Zarbock: And at least they had enough intellectual capability to pass the test in order to get into the Navy.

Robert Sherman: Exactly.

Zarbock: So this was not a prison atmosphere.

Robert Sherman: No, no it was no prison atmosphere or anything like that.

Zarbock: Well did you find that a little boring?

Robert Sherman: Uh... well you got it--- you're- you're- you're getting--- you're- you're- you're leading me right into the story uhm... I went to the Philippines uh... when I was in San Diego, I was basically on what we called the amalgablind, that is to say you just pack silver, one silver filling after another; all of the specialty work was done by senior officers who were specialty trained in a different clinic. And if you had someone that needed, for example, a tooth extracted or root canal or extensive deep cleaning of gum disease, you would write a referral shit- uh... chit and it would be sent off--- he would be sent off to another clinic. And that was how I spent basically my two years, was packing silver uh... and then when I went to the Philippines, I was sent there uh... as a- again as uh... as a- a--- still a Lieutenant when I arrived, and uh... I was put basically right back in the same situation, that is to say, packing silver. And the- the- the uh... the- the interesting aspect of it was that our executive officer had just finished completing a residency in root canal therapy in a civilian school, which means he'd been totally out of the military environment for a 21/2 year period and he is now sent 10,000 miles to the--- he was in Boston by the way, and you can imagine Boston to the Philippines, that must been a- that must have been a hell of a culture shock. And he went to the Boston College in- in- in uh... in- in- in- in Boston, Massachusetts, and that was--- that was--- and the Navy paid for it. And he was on active duty, but of course he didn't have to do anything with the Navy 'cause there was nothing uh... I think he probably had to go to reserves or meetings or something like that. But anyway, I don't know, I'm just digressing. But he was sent through as the- as the executive officer. Well, he's now the executive officer and the Endodentist and he hasn't had anything to do with the Navy for a couple of years. Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer had basically retired on active duty, he was a Korean War Vets, he'd done his time, Washington DC was 10,000 miles away and, tough noogies, so the XO is now doing the Endodonics, the root canal therapy, the XO's function and the CO's function and he's a little bit out of hand--- a little bit short of hands. Meanwhile, I'm in the back plugging silver uh... and he--- the exec- exec, and he asked me, "Would you be interested in doing some root canals?" Yeah, I'd enjoyed root canal therapy, I'd never intended to specialize, remember I'm only here for 18 months, I'm doing an 18 month vacation, Japan, Taiwan, Bangkok, Australia and get me outta here. And so he said, uh... "Would you be interested in doing some root canal?" I said, "Hey (inaudible) packing silver fillings all day long." So I said, "Sure." So the- so the CO and I made an agreement that if I would produce so many silver fillings, gotta remember this is the bean counters, you know you can count fillings, that's nice and- and- and- and in--- and all that stuff so you can keep--- you have to keep the bean counters happy. So if I would produce enough silver fillings, I could do a couple of half days of- of root canal therapy. Well--- and if I got into trouble I had the XO to help me, so I, you know, I wasn't gonna- I wasn't gonna hurt anybody. Well a couple of half days became a couple of whole days because, remember, the XO just hasn't got enough hands and he's- and he's got carry- he's gotta carry all this paperwork stuff, the CO's and his and uh... and then uh... and then pretty much every day I'm doing root canals. Well, if you do anything, even stacking bee bees every day for 8 or 9 hours, you'll get pretty good at it. Well, I'm getting pretty good at it and uhm... and so the XO comes to me one day and he says, "You ever thought of going into specialty training?" "Wait a minute, Sir, you don't understand," (laughs) I'm shooting here for the cookies, the milk, I'm just here to vacation and I'm going home.

Zarbock: By the way, your rank is what?

Robert Sherman: I'm a Lieutenant Commander now and uh... and he says uhm... "Well you know, you're doing really well and, you know, you- you could apply for a residency, and if you didn't get it, you wouldn't have to stay on active duty, but of course there's one hitch always, there's always the but, you had to be regular Navy, I'm a reservist. Okay, the Navy Dental Corp is basically built of 15, 1600 officers, half of them reserve, half of them active- half of them uh...... career, okay. Well, if you're a reservist, you can't apply for uh... for residency. So then I had to ponder that one, do I really, really want to uh... do I wanna make a career of this, no I don't wanna career this, but well I could at least fill out the paperwork and if I didn't get accepted I would just turn in my papers and resign my commission, my regular commission, I had a reserve commission but that was--- I'd already completed that obligation, way back when. And so uhm... I applied, and they train 3 people a year, so the odds are not good, and I'm one of the 3.

Zarbock: Wow.

Robert Sherman: Anyway, so.

Zarbock: Big surprise for you, too.

Robert Sherman: Shock is the word but they say I was--- I did pretty well academically but I never thought of myself as a uh... I never thought of myself as going into- into specialty practice. Never- never thought of it.

Zarbock: What went into the selection process, why you?

Robert Sherman: Again, I have no idea uh... I was told later that they had about 25 people who asked for the root canal residency program and they selected me; I was one of three that they selected.

Zarbock: It must have been some sort of evaluation by...

Robert Sherman: Yeah, well of course you had evaluation reports, but again I'm--- I- I don't have any real great idea, but I went- I went off to uhm... went off to Washington DC and... I should back up a little bit. Now I've also got another issue uh... am I gonna get married or am I not gonna get married. Well, we got married and uh... my wife uh... and I were at the time, we came to Washington DC, we'd only been married about a month and we'd been living in this tropical environment uh... I liked to call it tropical paradise 'cause it really was, it was a beautiful place. You- you'd go to the officers club and you'd--- what they had this Subic--- we'd call the Subic Bay Special which was basically probably Vodka and some kind of orange juice and rum and some other cockamamie with- with- with a maraschino cherry on it, it was a delicious drink and you'd sit there at the- at the- at the deck they had behind looking out on the water and we'd say, "Ah, another blanking beautiful day, it's a beautiful sunset in Subic Bay." And it was, it was one more beautiful day after another. Anyway, so we left that to go to the--- and neither one of us had been to Washington DC or even close to Washington DC, I'd never been in the same (inaudible) or anywhere near that thing.

Zarbock: That's right, you're a west coast guy.

Robert Sherman: I'm a west coaster and Seattle isn't that big in those days it's big but not that big. So we get to Washington DC.

Zarbock: The year is what?

Robert Sherman: The year is 1975 and it's the summer of 1975 and uh... I--- and we look for an apartment and we had- we had basically, as the old saying goes, we'd amazingly gone broke shopping, saving money in the Philippines; "Well if you buy it now here, it'd be much cheaper here," so we bought. And we had been--- and I- I'm a shopper, I will be the first to admit that, and she was a shopper, and we had a--- one heck of a lot of household goods. And the find--- trying to find a place to live was not easy, but we did find a place finally. And we go to school and we go to school and we go to school and we go to school and uh... then I got a postdoctoral fellowship in Endodonic therapy; that was another year. So we were there for--- and then- and then I had--- I was there for one more year, so we spent 4 years, excuse me, in- in Washington DC.

Zarbock: By the way, where did you live?

Robert Sherman: Oh we lived in an apartment--- well we initially started out living in an apartment in uh... in- in the Alexandria, Virginia, and then eventually we moved to a house in uh... in uh... Kensington, Maryland, which is about 4 miles from the hospital, Naval hospital Bethesda and--- which we still own, had no intentions of being a long-distance landlord, but I am. Uh... when I got orders from the- from dental--- from the school training program I was gonna go--- I was sent to Japan, which had--- which I- which I--- which is a cute story in itself. But I had no intentions of buying a house there, you couldn't buy a house there, couldn't begin to afford a house there, and so I thought, "Well, I'll keep my house in- in- in uh... in- in- in Kensington, Maryland, and when I get back to the United States, we'll sell it," and,well, we've gotten back to Camp Lejeune and I'm only gonna--- and- and I wasn't gonna buy a house in Jacksonville, I'm only gonna be here 3 years, I mean look at--- why- why- why would I wanna buy a house here. So I moved on base, and meanwhile I'm renting the house, the house has stayed rented, and 15 years- 15 years a civilian and I still have the damn house. Now of course, my accountant says, "You sell that thing it'll kill ya in taxes, so just hold onto it, you'll do something with it sometime." We still don't--- that is one of those unresolved problems we have is what to do with this house. Meanwhile, of course, it's appreciated in value uh... significantly, because it's like 11 miles from the Capitol Building, people are now, because property's become so expensive in Washington DC, are going out, hour-and-a-half commute, to get out to a place where they--- where to get out to a place where they can afford to live. The fact they're going out to places we used to go out to go on a picnic 'cause there was just fields there, now they're housing developments there, but at any rate. Uh... but we uh... we- we got to Japan uh... kind of in a- in a, I don't wanna say sneaky way, but we got to Japan because Lucy had been there as a--- her first assignment out of- out of--- when she joined the Department of Defense, had been Japan, and she wanted to go back. I'd never been to Japan and I'd- and I really wanted to travel, if- if- if you could say my interest in the Navy was to travel and frankly that's still my interest to this day to travel, and uh... so I so I ask the--- when you live in Washington DC of course you- you meet all the right people, as it were, and I asked uh... I asked the Assignment Officer who was--- who--- because now I'm a specialist, there's a- there's a certain guy who assigns just the specialists, and he said--- and I said "I'd like to go to Japan." And he said--- and I said, "I understand that the guy who's out in Japan now," this is Yokosuka Japan uhm... "has been there for a number of years and probably should be rotating outta there. Well, his name was Dick Myer, and Dick Myer's wife was Japanese and she had no intentions of coming back to the United States, and so I put this burr in the Assignment Officers uh... bonnet so to speak, in his ear, and he uh... he went back to--- 'cause he had--- there wasn't--- it wasn't showing up on his records that this guy should be rotating out of there. But he went in and he--- the next whatever and- and looked at it a lot, but he said, "Yeah, he's been there longer, much longer," I think he'd been there 5 years, and the standard rotation was, like, 3, and I--- and he said uh... "You still wanna go--- you wanna go to Yokosuka?" I said "Yeah." "I'll take care of it." And we went (laughs) and I'm sure his wife, you know his wife--- I met his wife and she was this--- we- we touched base and we got--- we touched uh... what were we calling it, touched- touched transfer and his wife was not happy with me. She didn't realize that what the- the degree to which I had uh....

Zarbock: Arranged it.

Robert Sherman: Arranged her leaving Japan, but she wasn't happy in the least.

Zarbock: Had she ever been in the states?

Robert Sherman: Yeah she had, well they had--- oh he had--- he was--- he had lived--- she had lived in the states but her--- she wanted to be with her parents and he was happy to be in Japan so hey, they'd still be there I suppose, but he got sent back to, I think San Diego. But at any rate, that was his problem.

Zarbock: So what year did you get to Yokosuka?

Robert Sherman: 79, July of 79.

Zarbock: Did you find your clinical practice more interesting than just what did you see, something about silver?

Robert Sherman: Yeah well absolutely at this point now- now I'm, you know, now I'm a student and now I've got the responsibility of becoming the- the Navy wants its specialists to be board certified. Uh... a little background on board certification, to practice as a physician or a dentist, you don't have to- as a specialist, you--- if you're a physician you have to be board certified to get hospital privileges; therefore, for example, an oral surgeon who goes into the operating room at a hospital has to be board certified. A root canal specialist, gum specialist, a crown and bridge specialist, an orthodontist never goes into the hospital, so there's no particular reason to have to be board certified. Well, the Navy starts pounding on you as soon as you start your residency that when you take your boards, when you take your boards, when you take your orals, when you write your cases for your--- 'cause you submit cases--- and when you take your writtens, I mean they--- you're- you're just inculcated with that. Speaking of being inculcated, if there was ever an inculcating that was certainly--- I was inculcated to take my boards from the get go and only about 20% of the guys who finish a residency do get their boards, they don't bother, it's not important and it means not a dang bit of difference you don't--- you can--- yeah you can write it on your stationary and diplomat the American Board of Endodonics but so what. Uh... the patient- the patient world doesn't know and it doesn't make you any--- and it certainly I'd like to think it makes you a better Endodontist but- but that's because I did--- I went through the rigors of it but that's my own personal take on it. But uhm... uh... and- and at any rate so now I've got the responsibilities of getting uh... getting ready to take my boards so I'm sent to Japan and in November I gotta come back and take the writtens. (inaudible) the word got to, I mean no I didn't have to but I came back and took the writtens and I probably never had a bigger migraine headache in my life, it was an 8 hr examination up in uh... up in Chicago with Evanston's Northwestern campus in- in downtown Chicago. Anyway took the dang writtens, passed em and now I gotta start collecting cases, well that's a long drawn out affair and to make a long story short you write them up in great detail and you need 20 cases and they want--- they don't want you just show you do a root canal of a front tooth, they wanna see all kinds of elaborate stuff that your- your great talent has been--- it- it demonstrates your great talent and uh... and they throw a case at--- and- and they have no- no compunction about not uh... throwing cases back--- case portfolios back at you for number one, not enough cases--- not- not- not- not--- you obviously don't know how many cases, not- not enough challenging cases, not enough interesting variety, not enough this, not enough that, not written well. So anyway, again, I submitted them, expecting I was gonna get em back, they accepted 'em, so now you gotta get the orals. Well, by this point we're already getting back to the United States and uh... and at--- and- and uh... consequently the--- I dragged that out, I didn't- didn't take my orals right away, but eventually my wife uh... you know, the old saying behind every man's success is a woman. My wife with her foot planted squarely up my behind, I got the orals done (laughs). And uh... consequently here we are, we did uh... we did our uh... we- we weren't gonna be in--- we had a fantastic time in Japan and I could under--- I felt kinda--- I never felt sorry for Dick Myers for running him outta there but if I'd have had a chance to stay there longer I'd have stayed there longer too.

Zarbock: How long did you spend in the Navy all time?

Robert Sherman: Uh... 20. Actually credit well--- you get credit for Dental School, you got 4 years of Dental School for pay purposes in those days but I only had--- but I was on active duty for 20 years.

Zarbock: What are some of the really enormous or what are some of the changes, enormous or not between practicing in a civilian population vis-a-vis a military population?

Robert Sherman: Very good question, I would like to think that there aren't any except that I know there are because in the Navy I can do exactly what I wanted to do, ideally what I wanted to do because there was never an issue of money and there was never an issue of insurance companies uh... both of which are an issue in private practice.

Zarbock: And what about malpractice?

Robert Sherman: Well you had malprac--- you didn't have to worry about malpractice insurance because quite frankly that you couldn't be sued on active duty.

Zarbock: You can be?

Robert Sherman: You- you could not be.

Zarbock: Could not be.

Robert Sherman: You could not be. But on the other hand, assuming you didn't do anything, you know, illegal, but as far as malpractice was concerned, no, we didn't have to have malpractice insurance. I think toward the end I may be (inaudible) you know, the old cobwebs are spinning here, I think toward the end they started suggesting that somebody must have sued somebody because I do recall, unsuccessfully, but I do recall them suggesting that we probably should start getting malpractice insurance in--- while I was on active duty (inaudible) last couple of years I think I did get malpractice insurance. But of course as a civilian I've always had malpractice insurance, uhm... but I would say the overriding issue, in terms of the difference between the two, that the Navy always kept me- kept me supplied with whatever I needed uh... as a specialist, I was a little bit of a spoiled brat, admittedly, because I was the only specialist in that area, so they--- I had a budget of my own money, I guess there's a big supply table that Navy has of dental supplies, much of which I could get all the stuff I needed from that supply table. But if I needed something special that I wanted, I had my own little bit of money, we're not talking buckets but a little bit of money that I could go out and buy something, little pieces of equipment that I wanted for me, special. And they would put it in--- you--- the biggest challenge with that stuff was, it had to go, you know, up and down the chain of command to get it approved and the paperwork mill had to generate and often times you had to make the decision would I ever see it before I moved 'cause there was always that possibility but the- the money was there, they didn't raise--- so made yourself feel better that you could buy some- buy some things that you wanted. But uh... anyway we've uh... now we've- we've retired and- and uh... and we've been in private practice now about 15 years in- in Jacksonville.

Zarbock: Do you see a broader spread of more unusual cases as a civilian, again vis-a-vis the military? Now, I have no idea what I mean by unusual.

Robert Sherman: Yeah, well uh... I don't know if I would call them necessarily unusual to the extent that in fact when I was in Japan at least I had saw some really unusual cases because I was working on Japanese dependent wives, you know, military guys who were married to a Japanese gal. And she had failing Japanese root canals and I had the challenge of retreating these things, and I had never seen anything like some of these things, so it became a very heavy- a very heavy education curve, how to retreat these--- some of these cases, because only in our country-- well it's getting better-- but at least at that point, we're talking, as I say, the late 70's/early 80's, uhm... most countries only have two specialties, orthodontics and oral surgery, everything else a general dentist does, and he does, and there really aren't specialists, there are no ortho--- when--- there are no such thing as- as gum specialists, there's no such thing as a crown and bridge specialist, there's no such thing as an Endodontist, and when uh... we'd have uh...... visiting Japanese civilians kind of your, you know, intercultural relationship type of thing we'd all--- they'd always be invited to the base dental functions, a few of them, not many but a few, and they'd find out that I was an Endodontist and they would look at me and they would--- and they all spoke a lot of English, they'd look at me like- like I'd just fallen off of the planet Mars. "Why would any--- how--- why would there ever be a need for anyone to be a specialist in root canal therapy?" After having seen some of their root canals, I began to understand that too, but at any rate uhm... and then- the on the other hand I'd have dentists who would--- who I would meet subsequently and they'd say can we come and watch you work? And- and I had some dentists come and watch me work and I had some other dentists come and take a picture, Japanese love to take pictures, take a picture of every drawer and it's contents. They'd open up the drawers, "You wouldn't mind if we take photographs?" Well, nothing's classified that I know of, it's all standard dental equipment, but they take a picture and they close that drawer and then open up a drawer and take another picture and I guess they were inventorying their offices, what the hell they were gonna buy to do root canals. But the whole concept of uhm... of a root canal is something that's just foreign to most countries, in most countries. Uh... they get exposed, in fact I met a guy who was trained and a Japanese fellow who was trained at uh... in- in a- in a very good root canal specialty program and uh... I asked him about it, you know, what do you exactly teach, 'cause I said "What I see out here- what I see out here on these dependent, on these civilian wives doesn't uh... doesn't compute with what I've been trained." He said "Yeah I know, I know." And uhm... he says, "They learn American-style root canal therapy but they also learn quick, short, I would call them dirty short cuts and that's what they do." And uh... if the case fails, which it usually will, they simply extract the tooth and do a bridge, or nowadays I guess you could do an implant and do a partial denture.

Zarbock: Dr. Sherman, you're in a peculiar situation as a health professional in the military context. First of all, you've got all of the military orders, rules, regulations etc. Number 2, you've got your professional ethic, and I'll even throw morality into there. Was there ever a situation which as a clinician you thought it ought to be so and so but a person of higher rank, be it officer or wife, would say "Well, I'm not gonna do that"?

Robert Sherman: No that- that- that I can honestly say I was always given free rein, I was a specialist and I was uh... I was expected to--- I was expected to conduct my show my way and- and- and uh... I was never--- I can't honestly say that was always in love with my Commanding Officers uh... but uh... getting back to that flower child part of my life again but I was never given any- any hassle about how to do a root canal or who to see. I won't tell you that I wasn't told to move certain people so that certain higher ranking officers could be brought in.

Zarbock: Accommodated.

Robert Sherman: Yes accommodated, that's the right word, accommodated and I did do that.

Zarbock: But that's the situation in the social order on the planet earth.

Robert Sherman: Exactly, exactly.

Zarbock: You could be in Afghanistan and somebody's gonna say that.

Robert Sherman: Exactly and some of these--- and- and I had- and I had a wonderful time with these guys and I'm talking about Generals, primarily here at Camp Lejeune and uhm... I had a wonderful time but they- they were neat people. I mean I am- I am just a- I am just a staff dentist and I- I'm nobody special to them and they didn't have--- they could- they could be themselves I guess is the word I'm looking for, they had nobody, they didn't have to impress me, I saw- I saw the stars on their collars, I had eyesight and uh.... Q: What was your experience as a Navy personnel with the Marines?

Robert Sherman: I had a marvelous time uh... I went there most reluctantly uh... I had--- first of all I have to be the first to admit I am--- I like classical music, I like opera, I like museums uh... I'm not a NASCAR fan, I didn't even know much about the ACC at the time, I've learned a lot uh... and when I got orders to- to Yokosuka as I had said if they've have left me alone I'd still might be on active duty. And I've got orders to Lejeune from a dentist who was an Endodontist and he had- he had risen through the ranks to become what will be called a dry finger dentist, that is to say he just shuffled paper. But he always used to laugh, he said, "I got a jar of spit over here on the counter; I rub my fingers in it once in a while, smart mouth." Anyway uhm... and uh... I'm in Yok- I'm in Yokosuka and he's in Washington DC and I know who he is 'cause I've seen him at the annual meetings and he knows who I am but we don't--- we're not, you know, we're not socially in the same stratosphere shall we say and so I call him and you have to--- there's a 12 hour or 13 hour time frame difference so you're calling them at 11, 12 o'clock at night, you're, you know, half asleep and it's 8 o'clock in the morning in Washington DC. And uh... you're going to uh... you're got say--- you're going to Alameda, okay uh... Alameda is like- is like uhm... East Bay San Diego, I'm sorry San Francisco, "That's great- great, that sounds great, that's- that's San Francisco isn't it?" "Yeah that's San Francisco." "Oh that's fine, that's fine." His name was Jim Fraser and uh... and then- then I get a phone call it's--- and again it's that- not a phone call, it was a written message that I was no longer going to Alameda, I was going to Camp Lejeune, so needless to say the next night I'm on the phone, "What happened?" "Well we had a--- have a resident up in Oregon, University of Oregon in Portland and it's just as--- it's a lot cheaper to put him in Alameda then to put you in Alameda, you're just gonna go to Camp Lejeune." I said, "That's in North Carolina I think isn't it?" He said "Yeah." He had been there as a Lieutenant, first part of his career and Jim was the out--- is the outdoorsy type, the jogging type uh... all that stuff, a hunter, says, "This is a great place to have--- to raise children, you're gonna have a wonderful time there," and I remember I'm coming down from San Francisco, and uh... I said, "Jim, you probably don't remember, but we don't have any children." "Well it's a--- you can go hunting and fishing and uh... great outdoorsy stuff," and I said "Jim I don't hunt and I don't fish." "Sherman, you're going to Camp Lejeune." "Yes, sir."

Zarbock: "Shut up," he explained.

Robert Sherman: "Sherman, you're going to Camp Lejeune," so that took care of that. Well uh... meanwhile I'm trying to figure out how to- how am I gonna stall this. Anyway I get my orders and I find a couple of ways to stall it, I wrote a paper, there was an international dental meeting going on in- in Osaka, Japan and I wrote a paper and I got permission to- to and fund it, that was the best part to get funded so you had--- they paid your way to go to- to go to Osaka and present this paper, you know, a little waving the military waving the flag sort of stuff. And uh... then I found some other reason or other, meanwhile my- my- my uh... replacement's already there and so we- we accommodated him in another room and uh... eventually we left to Camp Lejeune and uh... uhm... I got--- my wife was teaching school and we thought well she should probably at least stay for the benefit of the kids until the end of the semester so she did, I left in November and she--- we said--- when the school year was over, I think the latter part of January first part of February so uh... go to--- you- "You come back, you come after- after I do." Meanwhile we moved all of our stuff out of the house and she went and lived with another school teacher for whatever few weeks were involved. Meanwhile I'm living in the BOQ at Camp Lejeune uh... a sorry cockroach c-- never mind, you don't wanna know about that, but not a real nice place, and so I call--- I'm calling her long distance 'cause that--- and because I don't have proto phone, I have to stuff quarters and I remember buying quarters by the- by the ten dollar roll so I can stuff em in the damn phone to payphone to get a--- to call in Japan and eventually uh... I told her that- that this isn't the edge of the earth but you can certainly see it from here and- and I said if- and I said if you want to you could--- you- you- you could go to- you could go to Washington DC and live in the house and figure out something from there 'cause we still had the house in DC. Still as I say we still do but no she came and--- she was coming and we eventually uhm... eventually we've--- I've brought--- meanwhile I found her a place off base to rent 'cause there was no housing available on base. You can't just go--- there's no--- there's a waiting list to get into on base housing and eventually--- and I had no reason to--- I wasn't staying here, I was here for--- I had 3 year orders and man I'm outta here, the faster the better. Uh... and uh... I went to uh... I put my name on the housing list immediately and eventually we got moved into a house on base and it was uh... it was a uh... it was a very nice house and I was riding my bike to the clinic, I'm getting very athletic, I'm jogging, I'm getting a regular--- I'm almost becoming Marine-esque, riding my bike to the- to the clinic as I say it's about 4 miles away or so. And uhm... and then I got it in my head that I would like to go to Europe and there are only two assignments in Europe, one at Naples and one in Rota, Spain. Well so I- I called--- Jim is still the detailer and I said "Jim." "Yeah what do you want?" "I'd like to go to Naples or Rota," and he said, "Well if you extend your--- if you can extend your- your time in uh... in uh... in- in- in Lejeune I'll- I'll- I'll line ya up for- for uh... for one of those two spots." Well me, subsequently, Jim- so I extend and that's easy--- that helps Jim, one he doesn't have to throw somebody in there and he doesn't have to roll me out so he saves money on it both ways. Uh... meanwhile I spend another year there and uh... comes to- come to get another set of orders to Norfolk, "What happened to my orders to Europe?" Well the--- meanwhile Jim is now rotated onto another job, he's no longer the assignment officer, I rotate--- I call up the assignment officer, it's called a detailer, said "I don't have any notes here about you going to- to uh... Rota or Naples," and the truth is he put a couple of his friends in one or two of those spots and the uh... the long and the short was I was gonna go to Norfolk for my twilight tour and my wife says, "Well I don't wanna go to Norfolk," and I didn't wanna go to Norfolk either, and she said "I'll go back to Washington DC and you can commute- you can commute on the weekends," and I didn't wanna do that either, so I then said, "I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. We're gonna call em back," and I said uh... we'll do--- "I'll finish my career here in San--- in Lejeune" and, "But I need ya." "I'm not going," I said, "I'm not going to Norfolk." "But I need a..." "Just give me another year here and I will resign. I will submit my papers." And I did. And he said, "Well, if you change your mind, call me back." Never called him back.

Zarbock: I'm glad you did, gives me a chance to meet you. Thank you, Dr. Sherman.

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