4 min read

We are shaped by our life experiences, and my most impactful life experience occurred when I was a year old. My five-year-old brother, [name of brother], drowned in a neighborhood pool, lacing my childhood experiences with sorrow. I remember the grief that lingered within my family and my feelings of wanting to comfort them, especially my father. When he came home from his long days of work, I would climb up beside him at the kitchen table and pat his back, hoping to relieve his despair. Growing up in a tightly knit, first-generation Greek American household strengthened my family as we worked through our sadness, and this tragedy made me acutely aware that nothing should be taken for granted.

It was not just the pain that I shared with my father; it was our passion for teeth. When I was six years old, I was thrilled to share with him that my first primary tooth was loose. It was fascinating to watch him cut and knot a piece of floss around that tooth. Holding my hand in his, together we pulled out my first central incisor. The exhilaration from pulling my tooth, hearing the crack, and stroking my tongue against the hollow space in my gum sparked my interest in teeth. I went on to pull the rest of my primary teeth, on my own; it came naturally to me. Next, I moved on to extracting all of my younger sister's loose teeth. By third grade, my peers were asking me to pull their loose teeth, and I was conducting my "practice" in the school restroom. More importantly, I cherished how my peers not only trusted my skills but relied upon my ability to comfort them.

During our Greek Easter meal, it is tradition to serve an entire roasted lamb. For years after dinner when my family left the table, I would linger to crack open the lamb jaw, pull out the teeth, bleach them, and study the herbivorous oral anatomy, comparing it to my own omnivorous one. By the time I was twelve years old, it was apparent I was ready to broaden my experiences. My dad and his associates invited me to shadow and assist in their dental practices. I observed my father not only build his practice but his genuine relationships with his patients.

The importance of the dentist and patient relationship became even clearer during my time volunteering as a dental assistant at the [name of clinic] which provides dental care for the hospital's patients including those in the Cancer Care Unit. There, I came in contact with a diverse patient population, most whose cancer had impacted their oral health. Our smile, our mouth, is one of the first things that people notice about us. When chemotherapy takes away a person's hair, its impact can be remedied with a wig. However, the effect of the disease on a person's face and mouth also affects self-esteem and requires a remedy. I observed the dentists working to find the best treatment options for their patients while being considerate of their financial situations. Being trilingual in English, Greek, and Spanish, I was able to provide emotional support for many of these patients. Watching their smiles and self-confidence return further ignited my passion for dentistry.

Being a first-generation Greek American has given me perspective on my Greek American life. Working as a translator for the Physical Therapy Department at the [name of nursing home] allowed me to immerse myself in my culture and to further appreciate the importance of communication in providing excellent care. Many of the residents have little to no family and crave companionship. As I reflect back on my most fulfilling experiences, I realize it is interpersonal connections that bring me the most fulfillment. Just as I sought to ease my father's pain following my brother's death, I watched my father, other practitioners, and even myself at the dental practice, hospital, and nursing home provide comfort through sincere listening and conversation.

As I embark on the next steps of this journey, it is my goal never to lose sight of the patients' worthy of oral and emotional care. The pivotal moments in my life have developed my two passions, people and dentistry. Loss can create great pain, but it may also gift us with great strength and compassion. I have come to learn that both of these passions are equally important to me, and it is essential not to compromise one for the other. I strive to brand my future profession by mastering the science of dentistry and the art of creating a trusting patient environment.

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