Dr. Natalie Behling considers herself a “go with the flow” kind of person.
Her easygoing personality seems perfectly suited for someone starting a new career as a dentist during a pandemic.
“I have been going to school for 10 years, and I’ve been dreaming of being a dentist since I was 13,” said Dr. Behling, DDS. “This is definitely not what I was expecting or how I pictured it.”
Hired at the end of July as the new dentist at Lodi Valley Dental, Dr. Behling graduated dental school at Virginia Commonwealth University in May.
There was no graduation ceremony, due to COVID-19. Friends and family had bought airline tickets and lodging to attend the event, which was canceled.
Despite it all, Behling, who lives in Waunakee with her husband Alex and their adopted dog Theo, feels she’s landed in the ideal location.
“I wanted to go to a smaller community,” said Behling. “You get to know your patients better in a close-knit community.”
Behling was born and raised near Rockford, Illinois, in Cherry Valley. She had lived there all her life before attending college in Moline, Illinois, at Augustana College.
Afterward, Behling went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to get her master’s degree and later applied to dental school. Virginia Commonwealth was one of the schools that accepted her.
The couple wanted to move back to the Midwest after she finished dental school to be closer to family and friends back home. Her husband works in biotechnology and Madison is a hotbed for the field. Behling said she stumbled across an opportunity to work with Dr. Joel Crane at Lodi Valley Dental.
The practice was started in the 1970s by Dr. Gene Sorensen, Crane’s partner, who retired in 2018.
“Natalie was a good fit, with her goals,” said Crane. “She wanted to work in a small town, where she could get to know her patients, instead of a big corporate office.”
So far, Behling loves the Midwestern charm of Lodi.
“Everyone is so nice,” said Behling. “That’s what you notice having been on the East Coast.”
Lodi has laid out the welcome mat for its newest dentist, with people wanting to know more about her and asking about why she moved from Virginia.
“They’re invested more in you,” said Behling. “They want to get to know you.”
Behling’s emphasis is general dentistry. A self-described “people person,” she didn’t want to be a specialist. Working in general dentistry, Behling feels she can follow patients throughout their health care experience. As a specialist, she might only see a patient during a one-time stop.
“It’s kind of like being a jack of all trades,” said Behling. “You really have to think on your feet, because you never know what’s going to pop out of the hat.”
Often, dentistry is a family business. Behling said those who go into it usually have a parent or a close relative who is a dentist. Behling didn’t have that.
As a kid, Behling became interested in dentistry through a friend, whose mom worked in a dental office. She accompanied the friend on a “take your daughter to work” day at the office in seventh grade. It was a fun experience, Behling said. They even got to take molds of teeth.
Later on, Behling shadowed dentists and had internships in dental offices. She likes how dentists treat patients holistically.
When deciding on a career, Behling dismissed the possibility of going into medicine. She felt she wouldn’t get to have as much interaction with patients.
“I like to get to know people,” said Behling. “I like to get to know their hobbies and their lives.”
Having shadowed Dr. Crane for the last month, meeting all the patients, Behling is ready to get down to work, but getting to know the community is also important to her.
“I like how Dr. Crane meets people, not only here but also on the lake, at the grocery store,” said Behling. “I’m looking forward to being part of the community.”
At the same time, she’s getting used to being called a doctor. Behling is pretty informal.
“After graduation, I went home and all my uncles and aunts, and family and friends were calling me doctor, and I said you can just call me Natalie,” said Dr. Behling, with a laugh.