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The Long Road to Dental School: My Story

For a change of pace I decided I’d start blogging a little about the other side of my life, my life in dental school. It’s the part that is actually consuming the majority of my time and energy. Unfortunately, my time isn’t dominated with running, training, mountaineering and other adventures. Although I “make” time to accommodate my Full Time Student/Part Time Adventurer attitude, it isn’t always easy, but I do my best to make it work. It’s important to me to find the balance between school and life, share my experiences, and show others what they are capable of. It wasn’t an easy path for me to get into dental school and I often pinch myself to make sure it’s actually happening. Today, I’ll tell you how it all happened: the idea, the motivation, and the journey.

Unlike some of my classmates, dentistry wasn’t my childhood dream or even an aspiration during undergrad university. For me, dentistry was a chance to help my family in a way that I couldn’t do before. It all started in spring 2009, as my parents were visiting me for the last time in Quebec City before my 10 month deployment to Afghanistan with the Canadian Army. My mom was telling me about her recent issues, as moms always do, and she mentioned that she was having some serious dental problems that were affecting her profoundly and making her sad. She was missing teeth on the right side of her mouth that prevented her from chewing anything on that side. The damage had been repaired in the past but those previous bridges, which returned her original function, had since failed and fallen out. Unfortunately because they failed quite early (less than 5 years) her insurance wouldn’t cover any of the cost of new bridges, therefore leaving my mom with a potential bill of several thousand dollars, of which she couldn’t afford. In that moment, I felt helpless. My mom was telling me problems of which I could not solve or help. It was that moment that I decided to drastically change the course of my life with the goal of one day being able to help my mom, my family and my friends.

Eligibility to be able to even apply to any Canadian Dental School was daunting. Prerequisite courses were heavily science and biology based and coming from a computer engineering bachelors degree didn’t help. It was clear that I would require a lot of additional courses in order to give myself a shot at dental school. In all, I had to take 1 full year of biology, 1 full year of organic chemistry, 1 full year of biochemistry and 1 semester of physiology. While it may not seem like a ton of courses, with a full time job and the upcoming deployment, getting those courses done was going to be a major feat. Especially since even doing the courses wasn’t going to guarantee admission into dental school.

So there I was, trying to find, plan and organize a multitude of courses from a number of universities to get the credits I needed. Unfortunately, not all the courses were offered by distance learning and definitely not all of them were offered by one university. In the end it became of mix of 3 different universities, in 2 different languages, in 2 different countries and I got it all done in 2 years.

Probably the most challenging part was trying to do courses while I was deployed in Afghanistan. While my full attention was the job at hand and conducting operations against the Taliban, any downtime I did get was all schoolwork. While others were watching movies and reading magazines, I was hitting the books. My rucksack, while full of “beans and bullets”, also included the over 1000 page, Introduction to Biochemistry. On the wall, next to a SECRET map of our area of operations, were all the steps of glycolysis and the Kreb’s cycle. At times it got really tough. For a one month stretch, while I was deployed into the heart of Kandahar City, I was doing military stuff from 0730 to about 2300, I’d work out from 2300 to 0000, and then I’d do schoolwork from 0000 to 0200 just to wake up again at 0630. I was exhausted in every sense of the word, but I knew one day it would all pay off.

When I finally got back to Canada school wasn’t over just yet. I couldn’t find a suitable organic chemistry course by correspondence, so I sacrificed all my post-deployment vacation and all my annual vacation to attend Laval University in person in Quebec City. Not only was I not able to relax and take a much deserved break after that stressful 10 months in the desert, I was now taking biochemistry and organic chemistry in my second language, French; A language which I had only really learned how to speak a couple years prior. It was difficult, but I made it through, with my French-English dictionary by my side.

Finally, in the spring of 2011, in the midst of my last course, I was invited to an interview from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Dentistry. Excited and relieved that I got my chance, I flew to Vancouver and presented “me” to them, plain and simple. Luckily it was enough for them to take a gamble on me and I was accepted shortly afterwards, with 47 others.

I’m extremely blessed to be surrounded by a class of super smart, dynamic, and genuinely good people. I don’t know what I’d do without the friends I’ve met over the past year and a half. I don’t even know how I was able to compete against my peers and the pool of other applicants for such a sought after position at UBC. I mean, only 13% of applicants get in, and I’m not the best academic out there. I’m one lucky, fortunate guy and I know it.

So here I am, a 2nd year in a challenging and exciting program. Another 2 and a half years from now I’ll be a dentist, and hopefully be able to achieve what I set to do almost 4 years ago. I haven’t forgotten what brought me here and it’s my mom I think about each and every day.

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