By Stan Constantino
Behind Pacific’s unique culture, there are extraordinary students. Behind every admitted DDS student there is the Office of Student Services. Student Services has created its own humanistic brand that mentors, encourages and inspires the next generation of dentists and dental students.
The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry has a rich tradition of producing the best and brightest dentists in the profession, but not all students came looking for a career in dentistry.
If you asked Dr. Chris Nelson ’09 what he thought about dentistry when he was a college student he would have said, “dull.” Crafting an ideal prep for an amalgam restoration? “It’s as interesting as poking holes in a paper with a pencil.”
“Dentistry had been simply the family business, a career my father and his father both enjoyed,” Nelson said. “I knew dentistry combined the science, leadership and business management I desired in a career, yet I was reluctant to pursue it.”
Nelson wasn’t the only one disinclined to pursue dentistry. Dr. Daniel McMillan ’06 exclaimed, “I wanted to make a lot of money and be an actor like Tony Danza!”
“I was into music growing up, but I loved animals too,” added Dr. Jenika Hatcher ’08.
Despite having different, endearing childhood aspirations, Hatcher, McMillan and Nelson landed on the same path—at the Dugoni School of Dentistry.
The dental school’s Office of Student Services, under the leadership of Associate Dean Kathy Candito, has a long history of inspiring and educating potential students through innovative and engaging programs. The Student Services staff of 10, who have a combined 110 years of service at the dental school, also oversees other services including financial aid, insurance, health care and housing.
“We are dedicated to developing and fostering relationships with students who show promise of meeting the oral healthcare needs of the communities they’ll eventually serve,” said Candito, who recently became one of the first women to be named associate dean in the school’s 115-year history. “One of our objectives is to provide these students opportunities to motivate them for a career in dentistry and mentor them in hopes of getting into a dental school—it’s an added bonus if it happens to be at Pacific.”
Predental Clinical Simulation Course
The predental clinical simulation course is a two-day program designed for prospective students to gain hands-on clinical experience and insight into the dental profession as well as dental school.
Taught by current dental students, course activities include: a Class I preparation on an ivorine tooth using high-speed hand pieces and other instruments; amalgam condensation into a Class I restoration on an ivorine tooth; detection of basic interproximal caries on X-rays; and using composite, tooth-colored restorative material and articulating paper.
Last year, the course admitted 60 participants and had 30 people on the waiting list. Predental students come from throughout the United States to attend this highly desirable and innovative program that yields rave reviews.
“The moment I began drilling, I realized with amazing clarity that dentistry was actually fun! With every spin of the bur I was filled with more excitement,” said Nelson, a third-generation graduate of Pacific, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Dr. Leon Nelson ’60 and father Dr. Mike Nelson ’81. “Taking the predental clinical simulation course at the dental school was the deciding factor for me.”
Armed with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, Nelson began paving his way to dental school. He immediately joined the predental club at University of California at Davis and later became its president. As a student at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, Nelson was active in student government and became involved with numerous outreach and admissions programs, including the predental clinical simulation course that sealed his professional fate.
In partnership with the California Dental Association, Student Services hosts a day-long dental camp for middle school and high school students to expose them to the dental profession. During the hands-on program, students take impressions of their own teeth, make cavity preparations and learn how to perform oral cancer screenings. Every year, more than 30 students from across the San Francisco Bay Area participate in this event.
Pacific Pride Day
Pacific Pride Day, the dental school’s annual open house, attracts up to 600 prospective students and their families every year. Attendees get an intimate look at the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s educational program through hands-on demonstrations in the preclinical simulation laboratory, student-led tours and information sessions about admissions and financial aid. Participants have lunch with the dean and learn about student life through a panel discussion with current students.
“As a first-year student, I was a host and tour guide at Pacific Pride Day. I really enjoyed it because some of the students on my tour ended up becoming Pacific dental students,” described McMillan, who is now a faculty member at Pacific and practices in Brentwood, California.
“Some of the reasons I chose to apply to Pacific werethe amazing people and indescribable energy and support I felt when I met people associated with the school and when I attended Pacific Pride Day,” said Keon Aghar, Class of 2014. “It’s a special place. Despite how tired and stressed I am at this moment, I really love this place. I just don’t understand how that is possible.”
At universities and colleges throughout the Western United States, Student Services amplifies its outreach efforts by strategically hosting large admissions and general information sessions for prospective students, especially at predental clubs and honor societies. The two-hour visits usually feature an official presentation followed by a question and answer session. Student Services also participates in career fairs, graduate school and pre-health professions information programs and college advisor meetings.
I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one…I wanted to go to Pacific.”
– Dr. John Kim DDS ’04
In 2010, the staff visited a total of 17 colleges and universities, which attracted more than 500 attendees.
“While other recruitment tools, like online forums and social media, are becoming more prevalent, we believe that building personal relationships with potential students is very important,” said Candito. “Not only do these visits help us find the best and the brightest students, it gives us the opportunity to mentor and nurture students who are undecided on a specific health professions career.”
Dr. John Kim ’04 can attest to the value of developing connections. “As a child growing up in a family of physicians, medicine was always in the back of my mind. But in college I wasn’t so sure anymore. Although, I knew I wanted to stay in the health sciences,” Kim remembered. “By my junior year, Craig (Dr. Craig Yarborough), then associate dean for student services] visited our campus and made a presentation to our health professions study club. The school, the faculty, everyone and everything we learned about Pacific was amazing. I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one … I wanted to go to Pacific.”
Kim eventually matriculated at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, but also received more than what he expected during dental school. After graduation, he married classmate Dr. Misty Cervantes ’04. Both have thriving practices in Seattle and are raising two children.
Hatcher, who is a dental associate with La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, California, recalled her first encounter with Pacific and echoed Kim’s sentiments. “When Pacific came to present to us at UC Davis, everyone was so nice and so warm. I told myself if everyone there is like this, I want to go to school there,” said Hatcher, who was offered admission to several schools throughout the country.
“When I interviewed at Pacific, I fell in love with everyone in admissions and the school. Everyone is genuinely nice. The ‘happy air’ rumors were true,” Hatcher recalled. “Interviewing at other schools was a completely different experience.”
Built around the dental school’s core value of humanism, Student Services, current students and alumni personify the “Pacific family.”
“The family environment is one of the greatest drivers of the dental school’s success in enrolling talented students and producing excellent clinicians,” added Candito. “It is also the talented and hardworking Student Services staff, the administration’s vision and the invaluable foundation built by Dr. Craig Yarborough when he was in the position of associate dean for student services.”
“There’s always a sense of family in dental school that continues after graduation,” added Kim. “After I graduated and started as an associate in private practice, I met Dr. Ron Redmond who is a Pacific regent and graduate. Instantaneously, he became a great mentor, a huge factor in my success and my growth. There’s a ‘Pacific type’ and no other dental school can exemplify that.”
“Dr. Art Dugoni used to talk about the magic at Pacific,” McMillan added. “After I graduated and became a faculty member, the first day I pulled up to the school, I thought, ‘the magic is still here.’”
Stan Constantino is assistant director of admissions for the Dugoni School of Dentistry.