A first generation American applies to dental school


I am a first generation American. Both my mother and father grew up in communist Poland. After overcoming many obstacles, they were fortunate to obtain their U.S. citizenship and establish themselves in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. My parent’s immigration to the United States is heroic in my eyes. They made sure their future family would have lives filled with opportunity. Neither of my parents had the chance to go to college or get advanced degrees, but they understood the meaning of education in the U.S. They instilled in me the importance of achieving. My parents did not specifically push me into a professional degree. However, due to their constant encouragement to excel, I grew to love academia and dreamed of becoming a dentist. The next question was: how on earth was I going to achieve this?

It was during college that I began reaching out to others outside my social circle for resources. My parents were just as clueless as I was regarding how to start, so my first step was talking to my older sister. At the time she was a premedical student at the University of Illinois. I was lucky to have Caroline as a resource. Attending the same university made it easier to discuss which clubs to join. But it soon became clear that premeds and predents had slightly different circles even within the prehealth world. She encouraged me to start volunteering at the local hospital and local clinics to explore the many options within the health care field. I had a hunch that dentistry was for me, but I took her advice and explored the medical field as well. This was extremely important for me to solidify my interest in dentistry.

While shadowing at various dental clinics in town, I asked a lot of questions. They had once been in my shoes, and I knew that their advice would be better than anyone’s. They encouraged me to keep up with my academics first and foremost, and to take the time to study for the DAT. They also encouraged me to get involved with the predental club at my university. From there, I met other students with knowledge about the application cycle and prerequisites. Connecting with other students in the same track was extremely important to help me take the right steps toward reaching my goal.

Networking has been one of the most critical aspects of getting me to dental school. There is no doubt that it can be intimidating, but with no family or close friends in the field, it was the only way to learn more. Networking has continued to serve as an important skill now more than ever as a third year dental student.

People no longer ask me “why dentistry?” or “how did you end up here?” but rather “where do you plan to practice?” I genuinely have no idea yet. I have fully embraced this as my answer and therefore have made it a priority to make connections across the country. Every person you meet can open a door, whether they be a recruiter at a vendor fair, a family friend who recently went to see their dentist or someone approaching retirement and looking for a fresh face to take over their practice. Establishing these connections is extremely important because they could help steer you in the right direction.

ASDA brings together a great circle of peers with whom to network. While attending Annual Session 2015 in Boston, I learned how ASDA operates on a national level. I met influential leaders – students and practicing dentists alike – and made countless connections. Many general members aren’t familiar with the vast array of what ASDA has to offer. The resources on the website are a great place to start.

I’ve changed from a shy, Polish adolescent to an extremely involved dental student with a passion for ASDA and organized dentistry. My greatest piece of advice is to reach out of your comfort zone and ask for help if you’re feeling lost. There are so many people out there with the answers we seek, but we may overlook them out of pride or the fear of looking like we don’t know what we’re doing. It was especially hard for me coming from an immigrant family without close connections in the field. However, you can always find a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that may be lingering in the back of your mind. The answers may be right around the corner.

~ Justine Bednarski, Ohio State ’18

Justine Bednarski

Justine Bednarski is a current D3 at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She is originally from Chicago, IL, but has grown to love Columbus, OH, ever since moving two years ago. She loves dentistry because it is one of the few professions that can truly change a person's life and self esteem. Just as her orthodontist and dentist have helped her gain that confidence, she hopes to be that person for her patients. Outside of the classroom and clinic, she is an avid runner and makes time to travel to new destinations as often as her schedule allows.

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  1. Szymon says:

    Well done Justine! Pozdrowienia z Polski!

  2. Jasmine Zazi says:

    Same here! I’m also a first generation american going to Dental school! 🙂

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