I stumbled upon my ambition to become a dentist almost by accident. I was always a very shy and ambivalent kid. I didn’t have many friends and my social skills were lacking. My parents were worried about my lack of development, so I went to therapy to work on my communication skills. It was helping me gain confidence in that realm, but I was having trouble putting what I learned into practice. The friendships I managed were fleeting, and never lasted more than a few months. When I started university, I was on track to finish the academic campaign without a companion or peers, so I decided to look at some clubs to join. I noticed that on one of the social media sites, there was a group of students who were looking for another group member to join who was good at math. Since I was performing well in those classes, I messaged them. As I got to know them better, they talked about their ambition to go to dental school and open their own practice. One of them asked if I wanted to go on a dental volunteer trip abroad with them. Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduate, I agreed.
The trip was to Argentina, a beautiful, vibrant country. My study group members and I were separated, which initially made me nervous. I was working mostly with children doing dental screenings with a supervisor. Some of the children were nervous or too excitable to sit still for a cleaning, so occasionally we administered an anaesthetic. But their exuberant energy was unstoppable; as soon as the procedure was over, most of them ran back to their friends and family proudly exclaiming, with their extracted tooth held high in the air, that they “survived!” When I wasn’t helping with screenings and intraoperative imaging, I was supporting dental hygienists and preparing equipment, keeping it organized and sanitized. When the day was over, I met with my group members to explore the city. We went dancing and met some of the locals; we ate their food and learned to tango. Immersing myself in a new culture taught me the value of openness to experience; in many ways, I felt like I’d left the shy, reserved person I was back at home.
When we returned from the trip, not only did I feel like my interpersonal skills had been given a makeover, I was now interested in learning more about dentistry. I found a dental research initiative to apply to. When I was accepted, I developed a research question with a small group of students: “does consumption of alcohol and tobacco increase levels of fear and avoidance of the dentist?” We submitted a questionnaire to our sample group and analyzed the data to determine the answer. There was an instance when we were having trouble agreeing to who was going to do what. Deciding that we needed to establish roles so we could achieve results on time, I put my foot down and had everyone submit their preferred primary and secondary roles. Some their primary, others their secondary. It was a big step for me learning how to manage conflict and be more assertive. But I learned that it’s important to step up to the plate as a leader when I see an opportunity. The results of our research were eye-opening. We saw a correlation between alcohol/tobacco consumption and avoidance of the dentist. I wanted to learn more about this association and other factors, which I knew I would have the opportunity to explore in dentistry school.
Though it was somewhat serendipitous, my desire to become a dentist is no less authentic. I’ve woven together experiences that developed areas in my personal and professional life that were lacking. As a result, I’m now confident in my social skills and determined to enthusiastically work with my classmates and future patients. If given the opportunity, I’d like to inspire my dental school classmates to pursue better versions of themselves while finding whatever it is that excites their passion.