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Dental Post-Bachelor Program, African American

March 1, 2016

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 5 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 both a child and then an adolescent. During these last 5 years, I have also been continuing to mature and to make peace with the fact that I come from a dysfunctional family. My life was always very hard; yet, these last 5 years of young adulthood have been very healing and settling for me as I come to terms with my past in order to best prepare myself for the future.

I am African-American and both of my parents have been career soldiers in the military since my childhood. Often, they were both on duty at the same time and I was left in the care of my older sister and paternal grandfather. I suffered all my life from a feeling of abandonment, isolation, and low self-esteem and my grades suffered as a result. At any given moment, from Desert Storm through Iraq and Afghanistan, I was in constant fear of losing one or both of my parents. The fear, abandonment, and sense of isolation took a heavy toll on my academic performance and this was reflected in my grades.

Since I was 20, for the last 4 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 program. While still a teenager, I was depressed; but then I decided it was time to seek help and I 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, especially as a result of 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 own principal academic challenge or handicap resulted from the instability of military life, changing schools one or more times a year. Often, back in North Carolina, no one was at home but my grandfather and my older sister who was appointed as my “caretaker” in my parents’ absence. I wanted to always please my parents and never wanted to make a fuss, so I never verbalized my feelings. I think my constant worrying over my parent’s safety was devastating to my childhood, hearing news on TV about Iraq or Afghanistan and crying myself to sleep over a period of hours; frustrated, hopeless, all too often I let my loneliness turn into anger. I was unable to participate in afterschool activities because I did not have the transportation or family involvement, which led to feeling invalidated and unimportant. All of these issues were still unresolved at the time that I started college and I performed poorly my first year of college and had to return home. When I moved back to North Carolina, I began working and going to school at the same time, which in itself was a struggle. As I matured, however, I became stronger, especially with the help of my counselors (one of them serving as reference for this program). By my second and third year of college, I was making rapid progress at overcoming my issues and my grades improved dramatically. I became actively involved in my volunteer work and found a new sense of purpose in life, helping others.

I am from Fayetteville, North Carolina and I am the only person in my extended family that has pursued any form of higher education or received a degree in over thirty years. I attended a low performing high school in the city of Atlanta that did little to prepare me for college. As I have matured and achieved independence from my family, I have been able to provide stability for myself that enables me to be successful. With the help of your program, I feel very strongly that I would have the skills, confidence, and high level of motivation necessary to excel in dental school. My paternal grandparents are the only ones that 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 after his time in the service. He recently passed away, this past April, the most loving member of my family, at least to me, the youngest of three grandchildren.

Why have you chosen to pursue a career in dentistry?

I found my soul over the course of a full year volunteering with the North Carolina XXXX Dental Clinic.  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 definitely a bad choice for breakfast, as I observed shards of yellow and blackened teeth crumble under the weight of the hand piece. 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 in dentures. It was devastating, and I mourned her loss as if it were my own. I wondered if she would ever be able to 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? In that moment, I knew that I was deeply committed to help 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 camaraderie and excitement of the patients as well as the providers. These dentists were making a profound, immediate difference in the lives of these patients. My special passion for the oral health of children also developed during this period. I saw so many young children with rampant decay and in so much discomfort that it was heart breaking. Why weren’t the parents checking their children’s teeth or taking them to the dentist? Sadly, now I know that the parents themselves knew very little about proper oral hygiene, combined with low socio-economic status, lack of dental insurance, and/or lack of dental providers in their area. At the Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic, I found my cause, and my calling.

How have you used the resources available to you to help others?

I feel that I have a very compassionate and giving spirit. Financially, I am limited to what I can give to others but I always have time to help or listen to people in need. I feel that I have a heart for people. I am constantly thinking and dedicating time to help people in my community. It is a passion deep inside me, to give to people in any way that I can. My compassion is at a level of being able to genuinely feel what other people are feeling and then using that ability to do everything in my power to help them. My zest for life and my compassion for helping others is what fuel my desire to become a dentist that is especially active in her community.

I am an extremely hard working and determined young woman. 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 ever give up. I am resilient and I 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. Everyday I go to work, I am excited to be there, ready to learn, and I see myself someday having my own dental practice. I am prepared to do anything and everything I need to do to accomplish this goal; I just need help getting there. I want to not only get into dental school but I want to successfully complete dental school and excel at pediatric dentistry.

What is the nature and type of dental practice you hope to establish after your professional training has been completed, including demographics of patient population and location?

I am striving to become a comprehensive general dentist that will have a practice located in an inner city or rural area where access to quality dental care is limited. My practice will also accept all types of insurances including government assistance programs (military, Medicaid, etc) to ensure that those that need care will be able to receive care. I have a very special interest in preventative oral health and education especially as it pertains to children. As a future healthcare professional, I strongly believe that in order to ensure the best patient outcome a provider must educate the patient on their condition not just treat the disease or infirmity. I would also like to collaborate with other health care providers to help our patients, holistically; to lead them to healthier more fulfilled lives.

I want to practice dentistry in my home state of North Carolina, and to do so strictly in accordance with the patients’ ability to pay. The state of North Carolina falls below the national poverty line so it is safe stay there is a large working poor population. The state is mostly rural so access to care is often limited which is the largest reason why North Carolina was ranked 47th out of 50 for oral health care and for the number of dentists per capita. I spent a lot of time as a volunteer performing dental assessments for elementary students and the disparity of health care and health education is most notable across socio-economic levels and their corresponding neighborhoods. It is evident that there needs to be more healthcare providers in urban as well as rural areas where dentists are underrepresented. I also want to work hard to contribute to oral health education because I am convinced that that education is a key component in treating oral disease. I have witnessed people as young as 19 having all their teeth extracted (full mouth extractions) and then being fitted for a dentures. My grandfather, even though he never went to college, he instilled in me a desire and passion to serve my community and that is what I plan to do. No matter where I live, I will labor to lessen disparities in the quality of oral health care. My goal is to be a comprehensive dentist that works with other health care professionals to help lead our patients to optimal health, because if there are disparities in oral health there is most likely disparities in other areas of health care that also need to be overcome. 

What are the greatest challenges you will face 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 for being accepted to dental school is my undergraduate GPA. My exposure to science was limited in high school and I was not at all prepared for college level science classes. I also attended colleges that had very large classes sciences with very 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.

Although I scored 18 on the DAT, my chemistry scores were 17, which is not competitive enough for dental school. I am in need of your program for, among other things, to establish myself as someone who can excel in my course material, as well as to provide me with the tools to radically improve my DAT scores so as to be competitive.

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 African American female that is financially independent. I work part-time to full time when my school schedule permits. 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 am able to work full time during all school breaks. I have filed my own taxes for the past several years and rely heavily on my tax refund to help me get through school. Unlike most of my family, I do not participate in any government assistance programs, but I do consider myself to be economically disadvantaged. I have applied for FAFSA and I 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 do not know how I would be able to 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 not just to get accepted to dental school, but to excel in dentistry, serving many of the most poor and 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, as well as the fact that I feel that I am a good fit for your program, specifically designed to help underrepresented minority students in the dental application process. I want to be a more competitive applicant with improved DAT scores and GPA. I need the direction and guidance of a well established, highly successful program such as yours to help me to gain admission 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 will provide me with the greatest benefit because it will help me address all areas of my application, unlike a master’s program, which can be very limiting. Completing the Master’s Program in Biology in which I already have provisional acceptance would give me the opportunity to improve my grade point average, but not necessarily my DAT Scores. I am anxious to study dentistry more than biology. I want a complete immersion in dentistry, and I want to radically improve my DAT score. I am convinced that your program at XXXX is the best, fastest, and highest quality alternative towards the prize that I seek, for myself, and for the hard-working poor of North Carolina.

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