I’m doctor Phillip Woods. I’m a periodontist with the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. My first position was out here, and has been for the last two and a half years here, in Phoenix with the Federal Bureau of Prisons where I’m one of two dentists caring for about 1500 inmates in a medium-high security facility.
My job in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is not to judge anybody, not to punish anybody. Their being in prison is their punishment. My job is to do my job as a dentist.
You have really good teeth, okay? It’s important that we keep taking care of those.
In a given day I will see four or five inmates who have just arrived. Within two weeks of their arrival dental and medical screenings are required by law.
You’re going to be with us about 4 years?
We’re able to provide very thorough, highly professional care using state-of-the-art equipment, as you see here. And I would say 99% of the inmates appreciate the work that we do for them.
Yay! Yes, thank you.
There are lots of benefits to being in the Public Health Service. When I look back at my almost 22-year career in dentistry, over the 22 years I’ve taught, I had some lucrative years in private practice, and then I had a successful career running a dental department in a community health center in Boston where we created school-base clinics and we were just all over the place. It was all exciting. But what I find, really, a big advantage of being in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for me is now I’m able to do important work for people that really need it that might not otherwise have access to it, without having the overhead of office and dental practice supplies, without having to worry about purchasing malpractice insurance, after-hours calls from patients, and I have a lot more freedom and mobility than I might have if I were in private practice.
I’m able to provide high quality care while I’m there and when I leave I’m done for the day. And so while dentistry is very important to me, I’ve found I’m able to experience the beauty of Arizona, use my vacations to teach gospel music in Europe, do a one-year course that I’m learning a lot about Native American shamanism—all of this in one place while keeping a very important job and giving back in a way that’s important to me.
I have a number of very diverse interests. As a kid, because I grew up in a family of lots of preachers and deacons and church folk who all sang and many played the piano, it was normal, I thought, in North Carolina where I grew up, that everybody just sang in harmony automatically. It made a deep impression on early in life.
[Singing] If I can help somebody as I pass along. If I can…
In addition to my interest in music, I have always had a strong interest in art. I used to paint from photographs. I ran out of immediate family photographs and I talked to a friend. I said, “I’m still looking for some more inspiration to continue some of the paintings,” and she says, “Well, have you looked at the Library of Congress website?” So I looked under Princeton photographs and what came up really just amazed me. It was a picture of these black kids walking on a dirt road with their schoolteacher, walking barefoot. And I looked closer and it was my grandfather’s dirt road that we’d played on and grown up with. So that started a whole series of photographs that I’ve turned into oil paintings. One in particular show about 80 people at this outdoor – they called it a picnic but it was really a church association of ministers and deacons. And these were hardworking, largely uneducated folk who knew the value of courage, faith and hard work, and the importance of living a life devoted to services. I think these teachers were the ones who instilled in me first of all the importance of doing some of the work that I do today in terms of giving back. I feel like I’ve been really blessed with some gifts of talents and just a life that I’m able to enjoy. And to whom much is given I think much is expected to be given back. So that’s what I’m trying to do. And I feel like I’m able to do this in the Public Health Service in a big way.
There are friends and colleagues outside of healthcare who look at my training and maybe some of the choices that I might have and say, “You could be making so much more money! You could be making this or doing that,” and to them I always reply, “I have plenty.” There is no price that can be put on what is personal fulfillment, balance of life, and just inner peace at the end of the day. And I feel like I have all the money that I need being in the Corps. I have all the job and personal fulfillment that I need and want being in the Corps, and that life is definitely an adventure. And if you work in the federal prison you’ll see that each day can be very different. I like it that way.