D1 Stories: Dakota

Hometown: Louisville and Southern Indiana Undergraduate: Indiana University Southeast

Why did you choose a career in dentistry?

Growing up, I've always had the dream of going into the dental field. I was always the smiling child in my family, and I was often complimented on how contagious my smile was to others. I was fascinated by others' smiles, and I wanted to help others create that beautiful smile. I was also captivated by my mother's partial denture, which replaced her missing #8, and she would joke around with my brother and me by taking her tongue and sticking her denture out on her tongue at us. It always amazed me as a child how such a thing could look so real and esthetically pleasing - oftentimes I would forget she was even missing a tooth!

My true inspiration to really push forward and choose a career in dentistry was when I met my husband. He is an EDDA and he invited me to shadow the doctor he worked with one day. This doctor attended ULSD, and I was very impressed with how he was able to address different patients with a wide-ranging of medical conditions and essentially take their pain away, while also being a caring provider that would address their concerns and needs. I never knew the complexity and variability dentistry had to offer until I witnessed the different procedures that took place outside the usual 6-month cleaning visit.

I've always wanted to be a part of something that would make a huge impact on the community and take care of others. I grew up in poverty and grew up in a very rural area, where the closest trauma hospital was over an hour away and the closest doctor's office was over 30 minutes away. I grew up in a family that would often have to choose between going to the doctor or miss a payment on an essential bill. So, I made the goal in wanting to not only help and provide the necessary oral health care needs within my community and for those in poverty, but I wanted to be able to reach out to those who did not readily have access to a dentist or provider, whether that was in the USA or outside the states, like in my husband's home country in Mexico.

Why did you choose University of Louisville School of Dentistry?

Every dentist I've met that has gone to ULSD, they have been some of the most caring and talented providers that I've ever met, and that also extends to the faculty and individuals that are a part of ULSD. I've never met such a diverse set of individuals that not only care about the students learning in their program, but they care about their success in becoming sufficient dentists. I've never felt so welcomed in an educational setting and feel like I'm part of a big family. For myself, someone who has children and a family that I care for outside of my education, it was a huge impact that I've had from the faculty here, as I've always relied on that support system to help me through the stress of succeeding academically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

How has your life experience prepared you to be a successful dentist after you graduate?

I grew up in poverty, lived in very non-diverse rural areas, became a mother as a teenager, have bi-racial children, and am married to a Mexican man. I hope to take what experiences I've had before, and am still continuously learning, and will use them as a method of creating a better foundational and trustworthy relationship with my future patients – especially with those who may have a harder time opening up to and building trust with their professional providers.

What were your first couple of weeks at ULSD like?

 The first couple of weeks were a huge transition for myself and my family. When thinking of my life before dental school, I had a huge responsibility when it came to caring for my children. I was responsible for doctor appointments, dealing with daycare, and dealing with my child's schoolwork, dealing with sick kids, etc. So, it was a big step for my husband who had to go from prioritizing work to prioritize the big and little things that involved our children, so that I can focus on my academics.

Photo: Dakota's husband and two children

I was very overwhelmed by the schedules that we students had and how fast the material came at us, so for the first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time studying and reviewing to get myself into that academic mindset. Since then, I've found my groove and do not study near as much as I did those first two weeks unless an exam is coming up. 

What advice would you share with undergraduates considering a career in dentistry?

My biggest advice is to those who, like myself, are first-generation students with no individual that can help guide them into getting into dental school. Really research the general and average expectations of dental schools and plan the next four years (or the remaining years) of your undergraduate journey and DON'T treat it as a checklist! Get in touch with your advisor, and plan for your classes ahead of time to make sure that you graduate on time with your planned degree and have all the pre-requisites finished to attend dental school. You will need shadowing and volunteering – and I really recommend starting early in those as well, and don't be pressured to volunteer in something that's dental-related. Take some time to find a place you like, and continue volunteering there, especially if it's something you're passionate about. I, myself, volunteered many hours in a foster care facility. Don't wait until the last minute to shadow and volunteer if you can help it. And don't forget about the DAT!

I also recommend trying and getting involved in a program, internship or gain some sort of experience outside of shadowing to really determine if dentistry is a career that you want to be involved in. Being the first person in my family to pursue a doctorate degree, I did not want to pursue a field just from the pressure and expectations of my family alone, so please do not let your parents or family's expectations and wants to trump your passions and happiness in pursuing this field – or any field.

If finances or the debts of pursuing dental school are scaring you, do some research over different scholarships and opportunities available in paying back loans. There are also some opportunities to which students can qualify for help in paying for dental school applications and the DAT.

I really recommend the Student Health Professions Educational Program, which is offered by several schools, but ULSD also offers it as well! It's a great way to get a taste of what to expect in the curriculum in dental school (or any medical professional school). Not to mention I was able to make friends during that time who are also currently in my class!

To the moms who are going through the challenges and frustrations between trying to succeed as a student, being a competitive dental applicant, and being the best mom you can be – you got this! Lean on those support systems that you do have and remember to take time for yourself when necessary. Your hard work will pay off and do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do it.

And most importantly – enjoy your undergrad! Take time to breathe! Enjoy the journey as much as the getting to the end goal.


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