Finding a professional who is passionate about the field of dentistry may not be your primary concern when looking for a dentist, but if it is, be sure to look up Kelly Allen in a few years.
Allen is a senior at UAA with a pre-dental focus, but she was once an engineering major – despite having a long-time interest in dentistry. She grew up in Valdez, where there was no permanent dentist. A traveling dentist would visit, but her family chose to go to Dr. Lerner in Anchorage.
Allen always looked forward to her dental visits and expressed interested in the profession.
When Dr. Lerner heard this, he took her under his wing. He would explain procedures and tools and allowed her to shadow in the office during high school.
After high school, Allen arrived at UAA to pursue her dreams in dentistry. The support she received on campus was underwhelming, even discouraging. Because there is no specific pre-dental program, students with such plans have a hard time finding support. Allen was even told by her advisor that she did not stand a chance getting into dental school and she should switch majors to engineering.
Feeling disheartened, Allen took her advisor’s suggestion and began studying engineering. She worked at it for two years, but lacked any passion for the field. A regular dental checkup with Dr. Lerner turned her life around. When Allen explained that she had given up her plans to go into dentistry, her long-term mentor stopped everything and told her to go back to the pre-dental track.
Immediately, Allen knew that was the right decision. She changed majors again, but this time with a reignited passion for her plans and future work.
Rather than succumbing to nay-sayers, Allen began a proactive approach to her education and professional development. She began the first pre-dentistry club on the UAA campus, connecting the scattering of other aspiring dentists.
Building a dental community on campus did not end with students, but also included interested faculty and local dentists.
Dr. Courtney Burill – who practices in Eagle River – has been very supportive of the dental club and the pre-dental students.
With more support, Allen’s sights began to drift off campus. She became aware of Volunteers Around the World, an organization that sends medical students to countries in need to provide free care and services.
Allen liked the idea so much that she inquired whether there was a dental branch of the organization available in Alaska. She was told there was not, and if she wanted it, she would have to start it herself. So she did.
Now, after a trip to Cambodia this past January and another to the Dominican Republic in May, Allen is preparing for her third trip with Volunteers Around the World at the end of December. The volunteers will be opening a dental clinic, providing training on brushing teeth and making toothpaste and conducting dental exams.
With this kind of drive, passion, initiative and experience, Kelly Allen should have no problem with acceptance to dental school, as she has long been warned. It is not so much the opportunities you are given, but the opportunities you make, that define your success.
If you would like to donate to the Alaska Volunteers Around the World dental outreach trip to Guatamala, funds are being collected here: https://www.empowered.org/Alaska-Dental-Outreach-trip-to-Guatemala-December-2017-January-2018
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family. To reach Sara, email: email@example.com.