Carmen Boren entered dental school knowing more than most about what to expect. Having worked as a dental hygienist for 11 years, she had seen first-hand the expanded role dentists can play in their patients’ lives.
“One day, the dentist I worked for said to me, ‘Carmen, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but you really should go to dental school,'” she said. “That is when the seed was planted. I was 25 years old, married to a deployed soldier, and we had a baby when I set out to tackle the pre-requisites."
For young Elmi Ibrahim, the sprawling refugee camp in the Kenyan desert where he spent eight years of his childhood was his entire world. After his father was killed in the civil war in their home country of Somalia, his mother fled to Kenya with Ibrahim and his four siblings.
In a typical year, dentistry students in their fourth year spend 40 hours per week delivering care under the close supervision of faculty in a variety of clinic settings. With the suspension of non-emergency dental care by Governor Tim Walz due to COVID-19, everything changed.
Fourth-year dentistry student Kira Powell describes her experience.
In general, how are you coping?
When Victoria Gokee completes her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at the University of Minnesota in two years, she is headed home to the southern shores of Lake Superior where she grew up surrounded by a large extended family and fellow members of the Red Cliff Tribe of Ojibwe.
This month, dental professionals from India, Syria, Peru, Iran, Vietnam, Russia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, China and Mexico joined the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s Program for Advanced Standing Students (UMN PASS). Every January, the 2.5-year UMN PASS program enrolls 15 graduates from dental schools outside of the United States who seek to practice dentistry in the U.S.
With just 39 students in her high school graduating class, Jennifer Enich could play any varsity sport she wanted, beginning in eighth grade. There were no try-outs and everyone was encouraged to participate.
“The opportunities and the encouragement were huge,” said Enich, who grew up in Side Lake, Minnesota, and attended Chisholm High School. “I am who I am today because of the people in my small community.”
Lorena Vasquez learned in her high school science classes that the best solutions typically emerge from a strong hypothesis, followed by rigorous experiments. So when she began searching for the ideal college major, she arranged to meet with and shadow a physician’s assistant, a teacher, a dentist, a dental assistant and finally a dental hygienist.
“I am an outgoing person. Dental hygiene was most appealing because you get to spend time with people one on one,” she said. “Your role is prevention and education, and most of the people we see are healthy.”
One of the first calls Dr. Lauren Hubbard made before moving to Minnesota from Chicago earlier this year was to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. She knew that, no matter where she and her husband chose to live and work in the Twin Cities, she wanted to teach dental students part time at the U of M.
“I like the honesty and the ethics in the academic environment,” she said. “I love the focus on doing what is right for the patient no matter what. This work keeps me happy. It is a priority.”
Everaid Fokim is one of six students in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s dual degree dental hygiene/dental therapy program who received a generous scholarship from the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation.
“The scholarship will significantly reduce my debt at graduation,” said Fokim. “The financial piece was always the biggest deterrent for me. This relieves a lot of stress and enables me to focus on school rather than how to pay for school.”