Dr. Bernadette Alvear Fa | Coming Full Circle

By Ashley Musick

The year Dr. Bernadette Alvear Fa ’06 was born, her father received his license to practice dentistry in California, solidifying a multi-generational lineage of dentists who provided the foundation for Fa to discover her passion for dentistry.

Though she never anticipated following in his footsteps, Fa visited her father’s dental office throughout her childhood, often crawling into the chair to play (or some might say, practice) with the instruments after a patient left. Fa’s childhood interest in her father’s work unconsciously inspired her to apply to University of the Pacific’s pre-dental undergraduate program on the Stockton campus—the beginning of what now marks more than 13 years of teaching dentistry. 

Like her parents and grandparents before her, Fa and her husband, Dr. Jesse Fa ’06, met during dental school. What began as an introduction of two first-year students in the elevator of the Student Housing building evolved into trips to the bookstore for Sour Patch Kids candy, and eventually led them to move to Chicago after graduating from the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in 2006. It was while teaching part-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry that Fa realized teaching was the intersection of her passion for dentistry and her desire to help others. 

One of Fa’s first instructors at the Dugoni School of Dentistry was Dr. Jim Dower, associate professor, director of the local anesthesia curriculum and faculty advisor of the Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA) chapter. A steward of stimulating excitement for dentistry in his students, Dower was incredibly influential in Fa’s first experiences in dental school—so influential, in fact, that years later, Fa asked him to be the officiant for her wedding. 

It was Fa’s own incredible mentors and faculty—Dower among them—who inspired her to return to the Dugoni School of Dentistry to teach. In a serendipitous twist of fate, Bernadette and Jesse moved back to the Bay Area in 2010, the same year that Dower announced his retirement. His encouragement and mentorship led Fa to humbly follow in Dower’s footsteps, taking over both his position as the director of local anesthesia and stepping in as the faculty advisor for the dental school chapter of CMDA.

From volunteering for outreach mission trips to the Philippines alongside dental school students and fellow faculty members to performing a Polynesian dance at an employee spotlight event, Fa’s enthusiasm has enabled her to develop close relationships with students and colleagues alike. When asked about her involvement in such a wide variety of activities, she explains, “People simply ask me to take part in things, and if it’s something that will bring joy to myself or others, I say ‘yes.’” 

Fa’s dedication and commitment to her students extends beyond the traditional classroom setting, something that inspires her colleague and close friend, Dr. Debra Woo ’86. “Bernadette has such a kind heart. She’s very generous in professional matters, and gives a lot of herself on a personal level. She’s wonderful at taking charge and being a leader.” 

Inspired by weekly, physical fitness boot camps, organized by her supervisor at the time, Fa worked to get her personal training certification so that she could keep the evening boot camps running at the dental school. Fa earned her personal training certificate in 2012, followed by a specialty in women’s fitness in 2014. She also has a background in cheerleading and teaching luau dances. 

She says at first people stopped attending her evening boot camp classes because they were ” too intense,” despite Fa teaching while pregnant at the time. But she continued to encourage physical activity. As the content coordinator for a self-care and wellness course at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, Fa began incorporating stretch sessions into her interactions with students, and found that students reacted positively and it helped them feel more energetic. 

Fa is passionate about teaching people to be more mindful about taking mental and physical wellness breaks and reminding students that self-care is an essential aspect of the dental profession, as well as their lives overall. She even encourages stretch breaks while teaching her courses remotely. 

In 2014, the Dugoni School of Dentistry appointed Fa as chair of the Health and Wellness Committee, enabling her to implement wellness programs, fitness classes, guest speakers and an e-newsletter that benefit not only students, but also faculty and staff. The goal of the committee to promote healthy habits, physical fitness and balanced behaviors. 

Fa attributes her energy and passion for self-care as the reason she is often asked to be a mentor for students’ Personalized Instructional Program (PIP) projects. She loves the variety of the projects and subject matter, noting that some students create brand-new videos, while others develop pamphlets on topics such as dental anesthesiology or yoga. Recently, Fa was asked to be a mentor for a project about Medicine in Motion, a non-profit organization composed of a diverse group of healthcare providers whose mission is to address medical burnout through fitness, interdisciplinary community building and philanthropy. 

“Bernadette is such a developed, well-rounded person, which is something I really appreciate about her,” says Woo. 

To Fa, dental school feels like family, and families take care of each other. Fa’s lifelong passion for self-care and helping others has culminated in 13 incredible years (so far) of teaching dentistry—and helping those around her be their healthiest selves. 

Ashley Musick is a freelance writer from Anaheim, California.