We have all heard this saying uttered in our attempts to find meaning in life. This mantra, attributed to Confucius, guided me in my earlier years on a path to determine the profession that I loved so much it hardly seemed like work. I knew that I had interests ranging from science to art and the medical field was appealing, but my decision to pursue dentistry was not a straight path, to say the least.
Before my second year of college, I embarked on a Global Brigades service trip to Honduras with a group of pre-medical students and volunteer physicians. I was hopeful that this service trip would clarify if pursuing a career as a physician was a good fit. Unbeknownst to me, the trip organizers started integrating dental care into the temporary medical clinics. They acquired two Honduran dentists and toothbrush donations, but most volunteers were reluctant to help favoring medical shadowing instead. One afternoon the dental clinic was short volunteers so I decided to help. After spending just a few hours of teaching over fifty Honduran children how to brush and floss their teeth, my interest in medicine shifted to dentistry. In a moment of clarity, I understood the importance of dentistry through simply showing these children how to hold and use a toothbrush, a ritual act that I performed daily but had never given much thought to.
My initial experiences with dentistry on this service trip drew my attention to the constitutive skill set that dentistry requires. I appreciated the aesthetic consciousness, science competency, and underlying service to others that is necessary. Though to some this integration is a challenge, it was something I embraced in my college curriculum. During my undergraduate career, I took courses that appealed to me regardless of their difficulty. I delved into many upper-level sciences, such as Immunobiology and Developmental Biology, while also taking classes that required a keen eye and visual thinking, for example, 20th Century Art. Inspired by my art history studies, I would also paint using mediums ranging from watercolor to acrylic. Anthropology classes helped me to ground my reasoning and understand how groups think collectively, which is useful in analyzing cultural conceptions of healthcare. I shadowed women in dentistry and I found that my interests naturally aligned with the skills needed in the dental profession.
I decided to apply to dental school after my third year of college. After months of waiting for any news from the dental schools that I applied to, the application cycle ended and I was left with neither an interview nor an acceptance. At this moment, I contemplated if dentistry was truly the best fit for me or if this was a sign that I should explore a different profession. I wondered why I had received nothing more than a receipt of delivery of my application from certain schools. After some inquiries regarding my application, I determined that my average GPA was to blame for my lack of interviews and acceptances. I was distraught because I thought that admissions committees would look at my entire application and take into consideration the challenging coursework and extensive volunteer work that I had done throughout my undergrad years. The rejection was challenging and made me seriously question if dentistry was for me. At this point, I had two options: give up on my dream of becoming a dentist or make strategic moves that would render it impossible for any dental school to deny me an interview. I chose the latter.
A few months later, I began to pursue my Master’s in Microbiology. The pairing of graduate level coursework while simultaneously working in a dental office not only gave me more insight into the field of dentistry but it also solidified my choice of profession. As a graduate student and assistant to my family dentist, the academic and clinical facets of dentistry combined. I had a firsthand glimpse into life as a dentist, working alongside other women in dentistry. I studied biofilms, dentition development, and the immune system response to infection, all while assisting patients in the treatment room. My understanding of dentistry became comprehensive as I gained both academic and clinical knowledge of the profession. While completing my graduate studies, I benefited from unparalleled professional development ranging from establishing relationships with patients to creating models of teeth.
“Though it was not an easy and straight path, my decision to join other women in dentistry is one of the best decisions in life.”
After receiving my Master’s degree and gaining more than a year of clinical experience working as a dental assistant, I was ready to again challenge the application process. This time around, though, it felt different. All my experiences in the years since my previous application had convinced me that my decision to enter the field of dentistry was the best decision for me. Dentistry was starting to feel less like work and more like something I loved doing. When I received my very first interview invitation, I not only felt a sense of accomplishment but also sincere gratitude that my hard work had not gone unnoticed. I secured a spot at UIC College of Dentistry, where I am currently a D3 student enjoying the initial rigors of clinical care. Though it was not an easy and straight path, my decision to join other women in dentistry is one of the best decisions in life. If my experiences taught me anything, it is that if you really want something make it impossible for someone to tell you no.