They know the drill

Dentist Stull and his assistant, Vance, in Hagerstown practice 30 years together, so far

Dentist Stull and his assistant, Vance, in Hagerstown practice 30 years together, so far

April 14, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Dr. John H.M. Stull II and Debbie Vance went to rival high schools in Hagerstown but still they managed to forge a professional relationship and, more importantly, maintain it for 30 years.

A doctor of dental surgery, Stull has an office at 19426 Leitersburg Pike. Vance is his certified dental assistant.

"We were both just 25 years old when we started in the practice together," Stull said. "Patients would come in and ask when the dentist would be coming."

Vance said she was one of the first adults in the dental assisting program at the old Career Studies Center. "I went to classes fulltime for a year," Vance said. At the same time, she was married and raising a daughter.

When it came time for her to intern, she was paired with the dentist who had been Stull's dentist when he was a boy. That dentist paired Vance and Stull, and that's how the 30-year association began.


Vance graduated from South Hagerstown High School in 1969, the same year Stull finished at North High. "I went to Essex Community College in Baltimore to certify as a dental assistant," she said.

After high school, Stull earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in 1972 and then completed his specialized training at the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore in 1976.

The practice was activated in August of 1976 and from the start, Vance and Stull seemed be perfectly suited to each other. "We were in tune," Stull said. "That first day, we had just two patients so we had time to learn each other's idiosyncrasies."

Now maybe 40 people will come through the office in a day so it pays that they have developed and honed their teamwork approach.

"When she isn't here, it's difficult - I might actually have to talk," Stull said.

Vance agreed that when Stull reaches for an instrument, she knows which one he wants. A simple grunt may suffice rather than actually having to say anything.

When a new procedure comes or a new treatment is introduced, Stull and Vance talk briefly and then it flows, Vance said.

"Each year, I must take 12 hours of classes - on the clock - to recertify," Vance said. Some classes are in Hagerstown, others are in Washington, D.C., while still others can be accomplished online.

Stull must work in 30 hours, also on the clock, every two years, plus CPR which is required for him and optional for Vance, who takes it anyway.

"It's very comforting to our patients ... it's less apprehensive for them when they see us here together," Stull said. "Debbie knows them and their families and that allays anxieties."

Vance said due to the longevity of her association with Stull, they are seeing children and now grandchildren of patients now in the dental chair.

Vance and her husband, Ronald, have been married for 39 years, have one daughter and two grandchildren. Stull and his wife, Bonnie, began dating when they were 16 years old, and have been married for the past 33 years. They have two daughters.

When Stull first started his practice a few doors down the pike, he could only afford to hire one employee, who was Vance. "My wife, Bonnie, worked in the office at the beginning," Stull said. After raising their two daughters, his wife returned as office manager about six years ago.

"I often tell people I have two women in my life and both of them are in here," Stull said.

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