My parents called it insanity, my brothers called it a mid-life crisis, my friends called it indecisiveness, but I called “leaving a good job to pursue a career in dentistry” at the age of 35, an indication of my persistence and determination.
After I graduated from college with a double major in Spanish and International Relations and a grandiose vision of working in upper management for a major international corporation, eventually becoming CEO, I interviewed with Traveler’s Insurance Company and began my business career as a bilingual claims examiner. I was eager, excited and hardworking--so much so that after three months the company transferred me to Honolulu, HI to help clean up a disaster of case files left by a prior examiner. After eight years of working twelve-hour days, spending most of my weekends in the office and dedicating the majority of my life to my work, I found myself wildly successful financially but unhappy, unfulfilled and tired of being a Hispanic climbing the predominantly Caucasian corporate ladder. I did some serious “soul searching” about what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” I researched the fields of psychological case management, medicine, dentistry, business management and teaching at the university level. The options seemed endless. I had the talent, intelligence and perseverance but was crippled by the enormity of the decision.
Finally, after months of research, interviewing professionals, and job shadowing, I made my decision: I would become a dentist. Each of the dentists I interviewed was happy with his or her career choice. Dentistry would allow me the opportunity to run a business and provide a much-needed medical service. I realized that dentistry would provide financial stability, but, more importantly, it would provide opportunities for social interactions, intellectual challenges and time for building family, participating in church and volunteering in the community.
I left Corporate America and a nice salary, sold my home and enrolled full time at Central Washington University to prepare for dental school. Initially, I have to admit, I was intimidated. I noticed there were very few minorities and I worried that not having studied science since high school would place me at a competitive disadvantage; however, the fact that I had already been successful in the business world, knew the importance of perseverance, had real-life experiences and possessed single-minded dedication to a goal has more than compensated for my time away from school.
Throughout these past two years not only have I successfully completed the required pre-dental classes and earned an additional BA, in Biology, but have also worked part-time teaching English as a second language and have volunteered over 200 hours with Indian Health Services and with dentists in three private dental practices. Working with dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, office personnel, and especially the patients, proved to be a rewarding experience. In the business world, being Spanish/English bilingual was a definite asset; however, the opportunity to use this skill to inform, educate and alleviate the fears of Spanish-speaking patients has been particularly personally rewarding. I’m excited about the choice I have made to apply the principles and lessons learned in the business world to a medical profession where I will be able to provide a much-needed service. I’ve developed a passion for dentistry.
After my first year of college, I served a two-year, religious mission in Santiago, Chile. For the first time I learned what it was to struggle as a minority in a foreign environment. It may seem strange, but prior to this I had never seen myself as a minority. My family, the scout troop where I achieved the rank of Eagle and the inner-city high school where I was elected student-body president were all multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Achievement and kindness were valued. Being a worthwhile human being was valued. Listening to others, treating each other fairly and respecting one another were valued. These environments helped to mold and prepare me to contribute to our diverse world.
As I prepared to apply to the University of Washington School of Dentistry (UWSoD) I was introduced to Karlotta Rosebaugh who invited me to participate in the STAR program. This program allowed me to be at the UWSoD campus interacting with not only other pre-dental students but also current dental students, staff, professors and members of the admissions committee. I was given the opportunity to work with the Washington Dental Service Foundation (WDSF) and helped them with research on how oral health affects the overall total health of individuals. This was a fun experience and one that proved most beneficial in allowing the UWSoD get to know me and my passion for dentistry. My research poster was donated to the UWSoD outreach program and has been used to educate people in the community about the importance of maintaining good oral health.
In February of 2007 I was notified that I had been one of 55 students accepted into the UWSoD class of 2011. I was honored and ecstatic at the incredible opportunity I have been given to realize my dream of becoming a dentist. I have pledged to contribute to dental school and to my profession an understanding of true diversity. I bring the knowledge that commonalities bind more than differences separate. I understand ethnic diversity is an important quality to possess, but the competency of a dentist is crucial. I’m excited to bring both competency and diversity to the UWSoD and the field of dentistry.
I know that the road I have taken is non-traditional but it is my hope that by sharing my journey with others, especially underrepresented minorities, that it is never too late to find a career that will prove both satisfying and rewarding. With persistence and determination each of us can and will be successful in whatever we choose to do. We do have a choice; if at first we don’t succeed we try, try and try again until we find that which is most fulfilling. It’s never too late!