My family faced up to constant social and economic struggle following our immigration from Poland in the 1990s. My parents were both born and grew up in Poland under a communist regime and they came to America for greater freedom and opportunity. Both of my parents were undocumented for the first few years, while we were living with my aunt in Brooklyn, NY. My mother cleaned houses, and my father worked construction odd jobs. They worked tirelessly to be able to move a family of four out of a bedroom and into an apartment, and then into a house with a yard in Staten Island. This house was for us a castle but it was in very run-down condition and located in one of the poorest areas of the island. There was a hole in the middle of my bedroom door the size of a basketball. My favorite game was throwing objects through the hole and into the garbage can on the other side.
For as long as I can remember, my father has worked at construction jobs - 6 days a week, 12 hours each day. There were many years growing up where we barely made ends meet; there were times when my parents were not able to pay our utility bills; only recently did my parents’ wages take us above the federal poverty line. When my brother became seriously ill in 2007, my mother had to stop working as a phlebotomist to be able to care for him, and we lost her income which was vital as well as the health insurance that was provided by her employer. For two years my mother remained by my brother’s side as he was in and out of the hospital, taking a great toll on our family in every way, economically, emotionally, etc.
From 2007 until 2014 my family relied on social service programs for both health care and food. There were years where my family qualified for Medicaid due to my father’s low income and subsequent years where a few hundred dollars over the limit meant that we did not. My parents worried and prayed that a serious health concern wouldn’t arise, since we were uninsured. My family relied heavily on SNAP for food and free school lunches, especially when my brother was sick, and my mother was not at home to prepare our meals. I now want to give something back to my community as a dentist, providing as many patients as I can with cutting-edge oral health care, especially those with scare resources, as we once were.
The elementary, middle, and high schools that I attended were all underperforming schools – although I did not find that out until I was in college. I did my best to excel academically in high school and get a competitive SAT score. I considered myself above average, and I was proud to be the first person in family to attend college, where, soon, I realized that despite my great performance in my underperforming high school, I was seriously underprepared. My high school was overcrowded and under-staffed, with metal detectors and a shortage of textbooks. Often, the teachers just put on a movie.
As I look back at my life now, at the age of 20, I think only positively about the numerous ways in which growing up poor opened up opportunities for growth on every level, from personal resilience through my capacity to fully appreciate and savor the prospect of a world-class education. Most of all, my background has resulted in my having great empathy for those who need the support of the community for something so basic as oral health care.
For me, the underserved include many of my friends in high school, my neighbors growing up. Seeing how hard my parents, and my friends’ parents, worked at multiple minimum wage or near-minimum-wage jobs taught me to be strong, diligent, frugal, and hardworking. The underserved are people like me, and I want to be the kind of dentist who never forgets where she came from, who helped her along the way, so that I too can have this experience of helping the needy and thereby healing the ills of my community, attending to its most humble members, one patient at a time.
I am thankful for the opportunity to write this essay and express my sentiments, as a child and adolescent from the inner city. I have learned that we have the ability to rise above the holes in our lives, fill the void, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and help those who are in greatest need, for a professional lifetime.
I thank you for considering my application.
The following video is oriented towards Medical School but the speaker makes many good points that also apply to the Disadvantaged Status Essay for Dental School.