After five years away, Dr. Steven Shiflett is settling back into life on the Harbor at the Aberdeen Hoquiam Dental Clinic in Hoquiam. There are still changes to adjust to though; last time he was here he was in a different line of work.
“I believe one patient said I gave him a ticket several years ago,” Shiflett said.
He spent five of his eight years as a Washington State Patrol trooper working in Hoquiam, doing collision analysis and general patrol.
“I did love the job. I’ve told everyone if I was a single guy, I’d probably still be doing it,” Shiflett said.
Instead, he and his wife and four daughters — “I’m way, way outnumbered” — moved to Pullman and then California so he could train for a new career.
Science and police work
Shiflett was born in Elma but raised in Olympia, and trained in martial arts after high school. There, he started working with some troopers.
“They sort of recruited me,” he recalls. He handed in his application to the State Patrol the day after he turned 21.
After the academy and marrying his high school sweetheart, Melissa, Shiflett worked in Hoquiam from 2002-2007. He remembers enjoying all the work of patrol, but particularly the science of collision analysis.
“I loved the collision stuff. I’m a physics geek and a science geek, so I love the science of collision and putting things back together. I don’t love the injuries, but I love the math,” he said.
“As I had the kids, the family time became more important, and that’s what suffers as a police officer,” he said.
So he went back to school at South Puget Sound Community College, then Washington State University, continuing to work full-time as a trooper.
“I don’t think I slept from 2005 to 2009,” he said with a laugh.
The State Patrol helped out with tuition assistance and a lot of flexibility in scheduling, allowing him to work split shifts and odd hours to earn his degree.
“They were very, very supportive of my education, my going to school. They like their officers to be educated,” he said. “I was very grateful to the State Patrol for that.”
He noted some similarity between his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and his work with collisions in the State Patrol.
“It’s a lot of the same thing, math and problem-solving and deduction,” he said.
Deciding on dentistry
Earning his undergraduate degree was a challenge, but it took time to decide where he was heading with it. “We knew there would probably be a career change in there somewhere, we didn’t know exactly what yet,” Shiflett said.
He had always been drawn to medicine, particularly the surgical fields, but many are highly competitive and would require moving his young family multiple times.
Dentistry offered the best fit, with the flexibility to be with his family and incorporation of surgical components. He decided it was time to quit his job and move to California for dental school, a hard choice with the economy still reeling from the Great Recession.
“It was a challenge, for sure. That’s probably the hardest decision I ever had to make, was leaving the State Patrol,” Shiflett recalls. “People were looking for jobs and being out of work and I had a great job, great benefits and hung it all up to move out of state to be a student again.”
Continuing to work during school wasn’t an option anymore.
“Not possible for you to work and go to dental school at the same time,” he explained. “It’s hard to describe to people the amount of work and the amount of hours you put in as a professional student. There’s just no way you could do it.”
The support of his wife was also essential, as she continued the “more than full-time” job of staying home with their daughters.
“Without her, it would be impossible. There’s no way you could do that without the support of a spouse, it just wouldn’t be possible. She’s as much the reason I’m in this place as I am. I think maybe she thought I was crazy for a little while,” he said with a laugh.
Back to the Harbor
Shiflett searched a wide area for the best spot to set up private practice, but knew he found a home when he met Dr. Steven Earnest. He was retiring after more than 30 years.
“There’s so many things that go into buying a practice, there are hundreds of them that probably nobody even thinks about,” Shiflett said. “He and I hit it off really quickly. … This feels more like coming home than Portland or another area.”
It’s been a good move for his family, with the older girls excited to start school, and everyone excited for their own room. The family of six shared a two-bedroom apartment in California.
“That has been the thing they probably like the most, (having) their own space again and their own rooms again,” Shiflett said. “I’m lucky my girls are so easy.”
Coming back from California was a good fit for him, too.
“I was very happy to be back. I missed the rain while I was there,” he said. “I’m very happy to be back and settling in quickly to the small town.”
The Aberdeen Hoquiam Dental Clinic is located at 2005 Sumner Ave., Hoquiam.
Dr. Steven Shiflett
Family: Wife, Melissa, daughters Stevie, 11, Zennie, 9, Clea, 3 1/2 and Rainy, 2
Favorite movie: Tombstone
Hobbies: “I don’t really know what to do with myself” during free time, Shiflett said. When he has it, he enjoys golfing.
Little-known fact: Shiflett was a professional wakeboarder from ages 18-19. “I’m scared I’ll probably break my back now,” he said with a laugh.