“What made you want to become a dentist?” It’s the question we all get asked. My path to a career in dentistry was a bit unusual but it was lovely and adventurous and full of life experience.
I grew up in a dental office. My mother, Dr. Linda Kay Nichols is a dentist, and while I loved spending time in her office when I was young, it never occurred to me that I would follow in her footsteps. My original passion was in the creative arts. I grew up doing ballet and jazz dance. I moved to Los Angeles and studied at Cal. State University Northridge. I graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Arts.
After graduation, I spent my days taking acting workshops, mailing out headshots, auditioning for parts and eventually performing in front of the camera and before a live audience. A working actor’s life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Collaborating on a film set with a team of artists is a thrilling experience. I had the opportunity to shoot commercial advertisements, short films and network TV, but the theatre was where I felt most alive. I joined the City Garage Theatre Company in Santa Monica and performed in many productions over a 6-year period. The theatre became ingrained in my life. 30 hour a week commitments in rehearsal were the norm. My fellow company members became family as we shared laughs and shed tears on our stage.
Thousands of aspiring artists move to LA to follow their dream in “The Business,” only to learn a harsh truth that the pain of rejection can quickly temper the thrill of booking a part. Your career caters to the whim of the casting director or the producer or the director. It’s easy to get stuck waiting for the phone to ring. You lose a sense of control.
When my Grandmother passed away it taught me a valuable lesson. I learned that time is short and you have to live life to the fullest. It gave me a new perspective. It was during this time I began to open myself to other opportunities.
I volunteered as a dental assistant at the Venice Family Clinic, a public health clinic. I spent a lot of time at my mom’s private dental practice, often assisting her or performing administrative work around the office. It was the public health setting at the Venice Clinic that opened my eyes to a career in community dental health, without the superfluous burdens of managing the business aspects of a private practice.
This time at the clinic was a transformative experience that gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to change my career trajectory. It was here where my passion and enthusiasm for Dental Public Health was born. I decided to apply to dental schools across the country.
Having only completed one biology class in undergrad, I had a long road ahead of me. The California State University system was not accepting part time students at the time due to budget cuts, so my only option for getting my pre-requisites without taking a loan was community college. I earned over 45 units of mandatory classes for dental school during the 4-year course.
Beyond the pre-requisite course work, I focused on becoming a well-rounded applicant. I volunteered and shadowed as much as I could to immerse myself in dentistry. I loved it. It came natural to me. All those years spent in my Mothers dental practice were paying off. I found time to become a big sister through Big Brother Big Sisters, Los Angeles. Mentoring my adorable little sister Mya was a life changing experience and became a healthy distraction in between my intense pre-requisite coursework.
In 2012, I was accepted into the dental program at Midwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. It all became real.
Today, I am proudly serving as President of our school’s ASDA chapter. I will graduate in 2016 with a Doctor of Dental Medicine. I’m also a 2nd Lieutenant in the Illinois Army National Guard Dental Corp. I could probably write another blog about that exciting experience. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to serve this wonderful country.
If I had listened to some of the negative posts on Student Doctor Network, I could have easily been persuaded away from my newfound career in dentistry. Luckily my support network consisting of my family, fiancé, and friends supported me through this life-changing period of my life.
10 years ago I would have never pictured myself wearing blue scrubs or army boots, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Life is journey. Each experience shapes us and changes us. My path toward dentistry may be a little different than most, but it was adventurous and creative and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
While I still have an active membership with the Screen Actors Guild, today I am focused on serving public dental health initiatives. I hope to participate in a GPR or AEGD program after graduation. In the future I’d like to serve as a staff dentist at a VA hospital.
~Alisha Nichols, Midwestern-IL’16