2 min

Meaningful work

Dr Sean Sikorsky chooses to fix teeth in the Downtown Eastside

Credit: Wendy D

Getting busted for riding your bike on the sidewalk is bad enough, but then imagine seeing yourself on the television news, getting that ticket during a story about drug dealers. It was enough to make Dr Sean Sikorsky call the TV station in protest, recently.

“The whole situation was stupid,” he sighs. “I phoned them and explained that I am, in fact, a dentist-and you guys have labelled me as a drug dealer and that’s not the case.” With a nose ring and tattoo peeking out from under both shirtsleeves, the young-looking 31-year-old, admittedly, doesn’t look like your average dentist.

“The whole thing was a case of mistaken identity. I got a ticket for riding my bicycle on Granville Street,” he rolls his eyes. “There was a camera crew across the street filming it. There was a story the following night abut the police crackdown against the drug trade and in the background the footage was of me getting a ticket.”

One positive in the whole fiasco is that a follow-up news investigation resulted in confirmation that his pet project would be funded for several more years. The Portland Community Clinic is a facility that cares for the dental needs of Downtown Eastside residents. Its funding was set to expire next month and Dr Sikorsky said they were still waiting for confirmation of continued government support until the news story.

Several years ago he met with The Portland Hotel Society and “played a very small role in getting that clinic together.” Now he works there most of the week and a couple of days at a West End clinic.

Working in the Downtown Eastside “uses my education and it feeds my mind and it’s food for the soul,” he muses. “My bills are paid. I don’t need to make a lot of money.”

For three years Sikorsky worked for Health Canada, setting up and maintaining dental services in Northern Native and Inuit communities. “Once a month I’d go up north for a week-it wasn’t all sitting in a clinic, pulling teeth or doing fillings. I got to go into the schools to do education and prevention work.”

The Saskatchewan native knew he wasn’t going to fit into the private-practice model. Sure he’s tried it and didn’t like the emphasis on production. “You’ve got to bill this much money in a day; you have to do this many crowns in a week; if someone has his insurance you tell them they need this, this and this. You ended up telling people they needed work they didn’t really need because you’re expected to make x number of dollars.

“I’m a quiet guy by nature,” Sikorsky says. “I work with crack addicts who are in pain all day-who are mad at the system and mad because they’re in pain-and you can understand that and deal with that, but I need a certain amount of time to not be The Dentist-time to recharge and just be Sean.” So in his spare time he’s working toward a Fine Arts degree at Emily Carr. He also trains as a circus acrobat at The West Coast School of Circus Arts.

The acrobat training is something that started out for fun. “Then we got a couple of jobs putting on shows, mostly at Gay Pride. Next was a gig at the Cirque Pop show at the PNE. We had to do four shows a day for 17 days. I broke a rib during the first week. The doctor gave me Ibuprofen and muscle relaxants and said ‘don’t do it anymore,’ but that wasn’t really an option.” He grimaces at the memory. “The show had to go on.

“It made me appreciate being a dentist,” he says, but he hasn’t given up being a circus acrobat. “We’re back to doing it for fun,” he grins.