Meet Your Board Members

David Mercer

Chapter 3

In June 1968 I graduated from high school, finally. In July 1968 I started my career in the Department of Biochemistry, Dalhousie University as a lab assistant. I was responsible for setting up lab equipment and mixing solutions for medical and dental students in biochemistry labs. I felt at home in the storeroom full of chemicals. I was good at chemistry, physics, and biology. My first pay cheque–I still have it. It was not a lot of money for a 32.5-hour work week and one month of labour. But you must start somewhere.

To make a long story short, I got my supervisor to bring in his schoolbooks. He was a lab technician.  After reading through them, I decided that I did not want to follow in his footsteps. I phoned the Federal Department of Manpower, as it was called at that time, and managed to enter an electronic technician course which consisted of four hours a night for the next one and one-half years. I continued working days and was able to manage working two part-time jobs on the weekends. As I moved through the course, I started to repair some lab equipment in Biochemistry so that I could gain experience in doing so. As a result, Dalhousie Department of Biochemistry didn’t have to pay so many expensive service fees to outside companies and I was getting my on-the-job experience.

In 1972 came the big raise!  Not really, but it was more money just the same. I got a new job in the Faculty of Dentistry as an Electronic Technician. Progress. I had a new supervisor too–you know the kind that takes all the credit and makes you look bad.  We’ve all been there. I spent a lot of time in the shop not being seen and not being given much to do. I decided to read and study all the repair manuals of every piece of equipment in the building. When my supervisor moved on, I went to the Clinic Director and told him “You don’t need to hire anyone. I can do all the work alone.” Dalhousie likes that attitude from its staff. 

The new dental building was planned to be constructed and in operation by approximately the year 1980. I wanted to be a real Dental Equipment Repair Technician. What would I have to do?  What education would I need?  Where would I go to become one? Most dental schools just use a tradesman plumber and a technician from a dental dealer, who has little knowledge of hydraulics and pneumatics, for equipment repair. Neither the plumber nor the dental company’s technician were trained enough to be able to repair sophisticated electronic equipment such as x-rays. The individuals doing the repairs were generally limited to basic everyday repairs which required only the replacement of parts and not the more complicated repair of equipment parts.

I decided to come up with a course outline where no course existed that would give me the skills to become the person that would not only do the simple repairs but the more complicated ones. The course I designed for myself would require going back to night school for 6 years. It wouldn’t be easy for my family, but it had to happen if I was to progress to become the Dental Equipment Technician that I had envisioned. My courses would have to start with architectural and mechanical drafting, blueprint reading, and cost estimating. I would need knowledge of electrical wiring, plumbing, carpentry, refrigeration, and heating. I would need hands-on experience with a lathe, band saw, drill press, welding, sheet metal fabrication, compressors, turbines, and the use of test equipment, as well as knowledge in the use of all hand tools of any kind. Not to forget, detailed dental equipment design knowledge. I needed courses in microprocessors, programming, digital logic, and controls. The course outline that I had designed for myself meant that I would be going to Vocational and Nova Scotia Institute of Technology. The courses were all available. They were full day courses delivered at night after work and so I started. Six years later I was done. I even took bar tending just for a hobby–I needed it! I could now fix anything! 

I had a new supervisor and there was a new Dean. I had become part of the team for the new Dalhousie Dental School. I was sent to the major dental manufacturers both in Canada and the USA to talk to their engineers to ensure that the equipment met our specifications before it was purchased for the new dental school. The new dental building became known in the dental school world as one of the best for design and function. Our equipment amazingly lasted longer than any other dental school. There is so much more to tell.

In 2005 I was 59 years old, and I retired from Dalhousie after 37 years. I had two requests for my retirement farewell gathering. First, I wanted it to be in the Faculty Club and second, I requested a picture of the Dalhousie Tupper Building/Dental School complex where I had spent those 37 years. I didn’t want to forget my time at Dalhousie. 

I was asked at the reception, “What will you do now?” Well…on to Chapter 4, “The Retirement.” I will be a kid again. I have been retired now for almost 18 years. It’s fun to be a kid with an adult brain and a charge card. 

Follow your dream. Do the impossible.

March 2023

David’s first post-retirement job