Reflections from a Student

by Richard Ly, Class of 2017

As first-year students, finishing third quarter was the most difficult part of dental school thus far—and is considered our rite of passage. After our last final that quarter, I traveled to China with seven classmates for an exchange program in search of broader perspectives in dentistry. It was an adventure of a lifetime.

(See also “The Art of Dentistry: Global Collaboration Brings Amazing World of Microscopic Photography to SF” in this same issue)

Wide-eyed and foolish, we landed in Beijing, China, ready and excited for the unknown world of dentistry outside of Western parameters—the practice of dentistry as everything from caries to cancer of the oral maxillofacial regions are all treated under one roof of a hospital facility. By day, we saw surgeries, specialty clinics, radiology, general dentistry and research facilities. By night, all of Beijing beckoned with an irresistible charm.

One evening in particular, we found ourselves in a private dining room at Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant—the city’s premier Peking duck experience—hosted by Dr. Tie Jun Li, associate dean and professor of pathology at Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology.  It was somewhere between the laughs, cheers and perfectly crisp duck skins on sweet rice buns that a familiar magic took hold. It was humanism that brought us together over dinner where we first learned about Dr. Li’s passion for photography and work as an artist.

We received a call from Dr. Li’s assistant saying that there were packages for us at the front desk of the hotel. Eight copies of Poetic Life, Dean Li’s recent publication of dental themed microscopic photography, were left for us as parting gifts.

In August 2015, Peking Medical University sent a group of their own students to the Dugoni School of Dentistry. They lived with us as students and during the course of their stay we bonded and shared our exchange experiences. In passing, we mentioned that our biggest regret was not getting Dr. Li’s text from Poetic Life translated because we knew the images were much deeper if we could understand their scientific and artistic backgrounds. Before they left, the Chinese dental students surprised us with their own gift—the complete translated text of Dr. Li’s publication. We were thrilled!

Inspired by their kindness and the unique art of dental structures and pathology, we drafted a proposal for another collaboration between the Dugoni School and Peking Medical University. Dr. Colin Wong became our mentor and faculty facilitator who oversaw the project. From there, we had the amazing opportunity to work with dental school administration in digital design, marketing, development and building operations to put together the “Art of Dentistry” exhibit.

Faculty, staff, alumni, students, family and friends attended the exhibit and showed great support for the collaborative project, and we were thrilled to be involved. Dean Li’s presence at the event was a huge blessing and helped make the art gallery a dream come true. Through the “Art of Dentistry”, we were able to explore our passions for art, dentistry and community. Thank you to everyone for supporting us all the way through. At any other institution, this project would not have happened the way it did and for that, we as students are extremely grateful.