A small fish in a big pond — that’s what I felt like. Despite being so excited to attend UCLA, I couldn’t help but feel lost in a crowd of highly accomplished people and plagued by a mild case of imposter syndrome. But your college experience is what you make it, and I was determined to live out my undergraduate years to its fullest potential. My immediate concerns were finding a career path and a community I belonged to that would help me grow.
I always went back and forth between professions; one day I was a pre-med student, another pre-PA and on others pre-optometry. It wasn’t until the summer of my freshman year, however, that I truly found a profession I wanted to pursue: dentistry. Shadowing a close-knit practice near my hometown in San Jose, California, I met Dr. Peter K. Yu, an amazing dentist whose passionate mentality showed me the boundlessness of dentistry. Every day I observed Dr. Yu’s nimble fingers perform different procedures ranging from fillings and crowns to implants and gum grafts.
Carefully removing the sutures, he revealed a beautiful healing of the first dental procedure I was able to observe: a bone graft. The experience of seeing through a treatment plan from start to finish was moving as I discovered that “the sky’s the limit in dentistry” after all, as Dr. Yu always emphasized. And along the way, I created friendships with the front-office staff, dental assistants and hygienists who treated me as a daughter of their own, rooting for my success and inspiring me to take the path I am on today.
Returning to UCLA with a new ambition, I applied to a predental club, Clinical Dental Outreach (CDO), where I found peers who doubled as both mentors and, more importantly, treasured friends. CDO is a small student-run organization with a mission to provide accessible dental care to underserved communities as dental assistant volunteers, and to support and expand the resilient predental community at UCLA. Through workshops on topics ranging from tackling the DAT to basic dental knowledge, I felt fully supported in a safe environment.
CDO’s small size made it even easier to reach out to members and alumni, many of whom I consider a part of my support system. I also had the opportunity to work alongside UCLA dental students through CDO by assisting them in clinic. These students served as another support system as well, consisting of individuals who are further in the path I wish to pursue and who excite me with their stories from dental school and valuable predental advice. After joining this community, the days where I felt like a small fish in a big pond already seemed so far away.
After my first year in CDO, I became the group’s outreach coordinator. The first couple months were a steep learning curve as I faced difficulties facilitating club events and managing the club’s social media and website. It was already hard connecting to people without face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic, and it became even more challenging as we transitioned back to in-person school and had to navigate new COVID precautions and restrictions. We all suddenly had to balance our classes and extracurriculars that were now in person, or were scrambling to find hands-on opportunities lost to the pandemic. With the current climate in mind, I wanted to reforge lost connections to alumni and make sure I was best representing the possibilities we have for predental students, that although we may have faced some set-backs, CDO was ready to support and provide enriching experiences for our members.
Some of us may not be satisfied with where we are in life, including myself, but my support system has taught me that it’s okay to be more forgiving of yourself and to continue on. And in moments like these, I realize I still have room to improve and be challenged. A support system is not only a resource for advice, but it fosters your growth as a person, celebrates your accomplishments, supports your struggles and fuels your ambition.
Moreover, a support system doesn’t always have to come from one particular place or even be related to dentistry. For example, I have my family who always tries to understand my worries and support me to the best of their abilities. Despite being a first-generation college student, I still received help from high school counselors and teachers, college professors and fellow UCLA students. I found some of my support system through a Vietnamese traditional dance group called VCN Traditional (Trad). There, I performed alongside peers who gave me academic help and comforted me through my rough patches. This foundation — built by my family, educators and friends in VCN Trad — allowed me to further pursue my aspirations.
Although my journey has only just begun and there are still large obstacles I have yet to face, I know that I will be just fine. And so I encourage you to think about everyone you might have crossed paths with, people who have touched your life in some way, shape or form, and you might just find your very own support system you cherish as much as I cherish mine.
~Jessica Tran, UCLA