By Marianne Sampogna Jacobson
From an early age, Jeremie DeZwirek’s path was clear. At age four, he began swimming and, while still in middle school, decided to become a dentist. It’s been head down, fins on and hard work ever since.
DeZwirek was raised in Northern California by French-Canadian parents, a software engineer and a physician, who migrated from Montreal to San Jose in the early 1990s after falling in love with the weather and scenery during a visit. Their close-knit family includes four kids, all swimmers. “We attended my older brother’s practices and complained about sitting and watching, until Mom agreed we could join the swim team too,” he reminisced. All four siblings competed for years, some through college. Among their travels, a “bucket list” trip took the whole family to the Trans Tahoe Relay where they swam as a six-person team and won their division. “My father couldn’t wait until my youngest sister was 18 so we could compete!”
In junior high, DeZwirek had two transformative experiences. First, on a three-week volunteer trip to South Africa, he noticed that parents of the kids they were helping were not smiling. He learned they were embarrassed by their teeth and it became his mission to attain the “power to help people smile.” Second, as a kid he swam in a pool which made his teeth yellow due to residue from the chlorine. So, for a science fair project he tested different compounds to determine which would whiten his teeth best. He fell in love with dentistry while completing that assignment. He didn’t win a ribbon, but he earned something better—a career goal.
His childhood dentist, Dr. J.J. Salehieh ’92, ’93 AEGD, consulted on the project which began a lifelong mentorship. Salehieh helped DeZwirek select the right classes in high school and college to prepare for dental school and he convinced DeZwirek that the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry was “the only one.” Salehieh fondly recalls encouraging the precocious 12-year-old to become a dentist. He is certain DeZwirek, whom he describes as “a person with a pure heart and a quest for knowledge,” will do something memorable in dentistry because he is so special.
[pullquote]It’s been head down, fins on and hard work ever since.[/pullquote]
DeZwirek trained intensely as a swimmer in high school at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, California, (where he still holds records) in hopes of being recruited to college and possibly even making the Olympics. He was successful—he was recruited to swim at Columbia University in 2011. However, homesick and with a quest for more intense competition, better facilities and coaching, he transferred to University of California, Berkeley, where Coach Dave Durden invited him to join the Cal Swim team alongside many Olympic athletes.
DeZwirek thrived in the intensely structured and competitive atmosphere. There was very little downtime, with two workouts per day, a strict diet and sleep regimen, and only a small break for fun on Sundays. While his team’s prevailing mentality was that school was important, “our minds were always focused on how we could be better in the pool,” DeZwirek explained. The discipline paid off, with the team winning the NCAA National Championship in 2014. In 2016, DeZwirek narrowly missed qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team. Coach Durden was an influential role model for DeZwirek and his teammates, educating them about future career opportunities with expert panels and instilling the importance of discipline, professionalism and character.
DeZwirek’s time at the Dugoni School of Dentistry has been extremely busy since he began in 2016. In addition to his studies and extracurricular activities, he is a master’s swim coach at the Bay Club and a swim instructor for the Purple Patch Fitness Triathlon Team. His roommate Chris DeMeyer, Class of 2019, says, “Jeremie puts his heart completely into everything he does: work, friendship, dentistry, swimming.”
Some of DeZwirek’s most fulfilling dental school experiences have been participating in mission trips to Guatemala and the Philippines. He was one of a small group of students chosen by the faculty to serve as volunteer dentists. During these programs, student and faculty volunteers provided comprehensive dental treatment to hundreds of patients with limited access to dental care. At the Dugoni School of Dentistry he has earned many honors including election to the Tau Kappa Omega honor society, which is awarded to the top 20% of the second-year class based on scholarship and character.
Recently matched with the VA Hospital in San Diego for a General Practice Residency, DeZwirek is excited to participate in a postgraduate program as he says he is not quite ready to jump into a dental practice. “It makes perfect sense for me to learn more complex procedures and how to apply the newest technological advances in dentistry before deciding where to settle and practice.” His group practice leader, Dr. Michelle Brady, knows DeZwirek will be a terrific dentist because “he excels at communication with his patients.” Fellow student Stuart Adam, Class of 2019, concurs that DeZwirek will be successful because of his “strong social skills, clinical judgment, critical thinking, adaptability, willingness to learn and dedication.”
After his residency, DeZwirek plans to enjoy a much earned travel break. Until then, for fun, he body-surfs in the ocean, rock-climbs at his gym and enjoys trying new restaurants in San Francisco. At age 25, DeZwirek has already accomplished much but, like the swimmer he is, has only just begun to glide into the next phase of his life.