What personal hardships have you encountered in preparing for a career in dentistry? Which have you overcome, and how did you do so?
Now 24 years old, I have spent the last five years working as a Dental Assistant to the same Dentist. I have become so familiar with most of the details of a dental practice that I feel that I have paid my dues, and now it is time for me to become a dentist myself.
Along the way, however, I endured almost constant hardship as a child and then as an adolescent. During these last five years, I have continued to mature and make peace with the fact that I come from a dysfunctional family. My life was always challenging, yet, these last five years of young adulthood have been very healing and settling for me as I come to terms with my past to prepare myself for the future.
I am African-American, and both my parents have been military career soldiers. Often, they were both on duty simultaneously, and I was left in the care of my older sister and paternal grandfather. I suffered from abandonment, isolation, low self-esteem, and my grades suffered. At any given moment, from Desert Storm through Iraq and Afghanistan, I constantly feared losing one or both of my parents. The fear, abandonment, and sense of isolation heavily affected my academic performance, reflected in my grades.
Since I was 20, for the last four years, I have been entirely on my own, self-supporting, and I have managed to finish my undergraduate studies in Health Studies. I am now taking courses in Biology at the graduate level in preparation for your distinguished dental school program. While still a teenager, I was depressed, but then I sought help and visited my local Personal Development Office for assistance. In my community, emotional and mental disorders often go unacknowledged, and seeking help is frowned upon and often seen as a sign of weakness. Nevertheless, through the services of the Personal Development Office, I have learned that if you do not deal with your issues, they will continue to show up in your life and hold you back. I began working on time and stress management, setting realistic goals; soon, this led to new success in many aspects of my life, mainly due to improved self-esteem and confidence.
What educational hardships have you encountered in preparing for a career in dentistry? Which have you overcome, and how did you do so?
I have been told that my maternal grandparents never even attended high school. My principal academic challenge or handicap resulted from the instability of military life, changing schools one or more times a year. I always wanted to please my parents and never make a fuss, so I never verbalized my feelings. I think my constant worrying over my parent’s safety was devastating. I heard the news on TV about Iraq or Afghanistan and cried myself to sleep; frustrated and hopeless, all too often, I let my loneliness turn into anger. I could not participate in afterschool activities because I did not have transportation or family involvement, which led to feeling invalidated and unimportant. These issues were still unresolved when I started college, and I performed poorly at first and had to return home.
When I moved back to North Carolina, I began working and attending school simultaneously, which was a struggle. As I matured, however, I became stronger, especially with the help of my counselors (one of them serving as a reference for this program). By my second and third years of college, I had rapidly progressed in overcoming my issues, and my grades improved dramatically. I became actively involved in my volunteer work and found a new purpose in life, helping others.
I am from Fayetteville, North Carolina. I am the only person in my extended family who has pursued higher education or received a degree in over thirty years. I attended a low-performing high school in Atlanta that did little to prepare me for college. As I have matured and achieved independence from my family, I have been provided stability, enabling me to succeed. I believe I now have the skills, confidence, and motivation necessary to excel in dental school. My paternal grandparents are the only ones I ever knew. Both are fortunate to have achieved a high school education. My grandfather served in the military during the Korean War and worked in factories. I now seek to serve like my grandfather as a stabilizing force.
Why have you chosen to pursue a career in dentistry?
I found my soul volunteering with the North Carolina XXXX Dental Clinic for a year. Nothing could have prepared me for what I faced. Sometimes, at first, it felt like a violent attack on my senses. I imagined a combination of halitosis and rotting food, but this was far worse. The foul odor seeped through my mask, and a wave of nausea threatened to overtake me at every turn. I remember thinking that oatmeal was the wrong choice for breakfast as I observed shards of yellow and blackened teeth crumble under the handpiece's weight. I have never been squeamish or uncomfortable with blood, and it was not just the smell of necrosis or the appearance of years of neglect that was at the root of this visceral reaction: it was the knowledge that Jessica, only a young woman, would spend the rest of her life wearing dentures. It was devastating, and I mourned her loss as if it were my own. I wondered if she could ever bite into an apple or laugh without the fear that her teeth would slip out. Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance, especially someone with so many years ahead of her? At that moment, I knew I was deeply committed to helping Jessica and others like her.
My volunteer experience greatly fueled my passion for the field of dentistry. I worked collectively with volunteers and health care professionals to alleviate dental pain and provide services to those that would not ordinarily have access to dental care. I was amazed at the patients' and providers' camaraderie and excitement. These dentists were making a profound, immediate difference in the lives of these patients. My particular passion for children's oral health also developed during this period. I saw so many young children with rampant decay and so much discomfort that it was heartbreaking. Why weren’t the parents checking their children’s teeth or taking them to the dentist? Sadly, most parents know little about proper oral hygiene, and few have dental insurance. At the clinic, I found my cause and calling.
How have you used the resources available to you to help others?
I feel that I have a very compassionate and giving spirit. My zest for life and my passion for assisting others fuels my desire to become a dentist that is mainly active in her community. Hardworking and determined, I do not let things keep me down or distract me from my goals. Nothing in my life has come easy for me, and I have experienced hardships and setbacks, but I never give up. I am resilient and always strive to put my best foot forward. A sincere, honest, and compassionate person, I am not just concerned with my success but the success of others around me. I want everyone connected to me to achieve their dreams in life. I am committed to going to dental school and becoming a dentist. Every day I go to work, I am excited to be there and ready to learn, and I see myself someday having my dental practice. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal of eventually becoming a pediatric dentist.
What is the nature and type of dental practice you hope to establish as a result of your professional training, including patient population demographics and location?
I want to practice dentistry in my home state of North Carolin and do so strictly according to the patient’s ability to pay. The state of North Carolina is primarily rural, so access to care is often limited, which is the most significant reason North Carolina was ranked 47th out of 50 for oral health care and dentists per capita.
I spent much time performing dental assessments for elementary students as a volunteer. More providers are needed where dentists are underrepresented. I also want to work hard to contribute to oral health education because I am convinced that education is critical for treating oral diseases. I have witnessed people as young as 19 having all their teeth extracted (complete mouth extractions) and then being fitted with dentures. My grandfather instilled a desire and passion for serving my community, which I plan to do. No matter where I live, I will labor to lessen disparities in the quality of oral health care. I aim to be a comprehensive dentist who works with other healthcare professionals to help lead our patients to optimal health. If there are disparities in oral health, there are most likely disparities in other areas of health care that also need to be overcome.
What is your most significant challenge to applicants when applying to dental school? What potential setbacks or problems do you anticipate that may prevent you from gaining admission to a dental school?
My greatest challenge in being accepted to dental school is my undergraduate GPA. My exposure to science was limited in high school, and I was unprepared for college-level science classes. I also attended colleges with huge science classes and little professor/ student interaction. Nevertheless, my grades did improve over time, helping to vindicate towards the end the failures that tended to characterize my performance early on.
What economic hardships have you encountered in preparing for a career in dentistry? Which have you overcome, and how did you do so?
I am a twenty-four-year-old real African American female that is financially independent. I live solely off of my income from work, which is approximately fifteen to eighteen thousand dollars per year, depending on whether or not I can work full-time during all school breaks. I have filed my taxes for actual and real years and rely heavily on my tax refund to help me get through school. I do not participate in any government assistance programs. I have applied for financial aid and am eligible for tuition assistance. Fortunately, my employer offers some tuition reimbursement. I am the only employee that takes advantage of this program. Without my company’s reimbursement program, I cannot afford my tuition, books, and fees.
I would be most grateful to be accepted to a program such as yours, where I feel fully confident that I would be well prepared to get admitted to dental school and excel in dentistry, serving many of the poorest and most vulnerable of Americans.
Why have you chosen to apply to this program?
I have my heart set on your program at XXXX because of its comprehensive nature. I am a good fit for your program, specifically designed to help underrepresented minority students become more competitive applicants with improved DAT scores and GPAs. I need the direction and guidance of a well-established, highly successful program to help applicants get accepted to dental school. Finally, I am very much intrigued by the relationship that XXXX has with nearby dental schools, the mentorship offered by program faculty, dental students, and dental faculty, the clerkship and research opportunities, and the close personal evaluation of the student to tailor a program to help the student become a more competitive applicant.
I have decided that a post-baccalaureate program is the best way to get accepted and prove myself in a Master’s Program in Biology, where I already have provisional acceptance, allowing me to improve my grade point average. I am incredibly anxious to study dentistry and biology to improve my DAT score. I am convinced that your program at XXXX is the best, fastest, and highest quality alternative to the prize that I seek for myself and the hard-working poor of North Carolina. Thank you for considering my application to your pre-dental program.
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