Keith Tormey plans to visit relatives in Drogheda, Ireland after graduating from the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. They are ready for him. “The number of texts I’ve gotten: ‘Hey, I need you to look at my tooth,'” he said.
He has the habit. “It’s funny. Ever since I went to dental school, they send me pictures with my mouth open and say, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ ‘What do you think of that?'”
Tormey is proud to be able to help. His family helped inspire the northern South Carolina man’s interest in dentistry.
“My parents immigrated here in 1992 to improve their lives and provide better opportunities for their children. And as I got older, I appreciated that a little more and noticed, ‘Hey, why do my sister and I go to the dentist and you and dad don’t?’
He said he realized that dental care had not been as high a priority where his parents were from as it was here. “I could see a big difference in the level of confidence that my sister and I had compared to other family members who weren’t lucky enough to receive dental care. I took this as my motivation to try to make a difference in people’s lives through the use of their smile.
He found this motivation very early. Tormey, who grew up in Greer, was the kid who really loved going to the dentist. “I’ve always enjoyed talking with my hygienist and asking lots of questions. I was that kid who said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Or, “What are you doing now?”
Tormey struck up a relationship with his dentist and was lucky enough to follow him into eighth grade. “I knew dentistry was my calling.”
As an undergraduate health science student at Clemson University, Tormey had the chance to participate in dental education abroad through the non-profit organization Vida Volunteer. “I ended up going to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala,” he said.
He also went to Ecuador while in dental school at MUSC – before COVID hit. COVID arrived just as Tormey was preparing to start working with patients.
“We were supposed to start the clinic in May 2020. And that was delayed for about a month. We started, I think, in the middle of June. And it was a slow start, but the College of Dentistry and MUSC did a good job of educating us on proper PPE and all that kind of stuff. PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment.
“It was crazy – the amount of PPE we had to have. But it brought us to the clinic, and our patients showed up for treatment, and we were grateful that we were able to continue our education while adapting to the challenges that everyone was adapting to. It was definitely a crazy time.
During this time, Tormey served as class president the entire time he was in dental school. “I like to lead and get out of my comfort zone a bit and challenge others to step out of their comfort zone,” he said.
“I really feel like my grades could have been higher if I hadn’t been in this role. But it’s been very rewarding. The people I’ve been able to serve have been great. And I wouldn’t change that. certainly not if I had to go back and start over.
He used to be busy. As an undergrad, he helped run Clemson’s men’s soccer program. “We won the 2014 ACC Championship and were runners-up in 2015.”
The time management that required, due to practices and travel, was a good preparation for the future. “It was a cool experience. I think ultimately it helped me do well in dental school – having that experience in college in terms of always traveling, always having something more to other than just studying. When I got to dental school, it was like, ‘Wow. I’m used to being so active and so involved. That’s why I got involved in positions of class leadership.
One of Tormey’s mentors, Tariq Javed, associate dean for academic and student affairs, said he was a good role model and leader. “Keith has been a resilient and dedicated student. Persevering, holding on and above all helping anyone who needs help or support in his class are his qualities.
After graduation and his trip to Ireland, Tormey would go to work in a dental practice in Simpsonville, near where he grew up. “I always knew I wanted to come home and serve the community I grew up in. So I’m really lucky to have this opportunity,” he said.
“I will see patients of all ages. I will take special needs patients, anyone who comes into my office. I look forward to treating them.
He also plans to continue his missionary work. “Not only do I want to serve the international community, but I hope to provide care for my own community. The office I work for offers a service day once a year where they open two of the offices and offer patients one free procedure,” Tormey said.
He would like to take a mission trip to Ireland and help people beyond his loved ones. Tormey said he was motivated by faith. “I want people to know that there is a higher power out there, whether they want to believe the same as me or not. That’s fine. But in the end, I hope I help them in more than dentistry.