When most people hear my path to dentistry, they think that I’m a glutton for punishment, yet the truth is, I am actually just a normal girl who, like any 18-year-old at the time, didn’t quite know herself yet.
The story starts with high-school Connie, who knew she was meant to be a provider, knew she wanted to work in health care and that was about it. My parents worked at my state school, where we had one of the best accelerated PharmD programs in the country, so going to pharmacy school became my best financial option, which is how I ended up there — no dreams of becoming a pharmacist, no shadowing or working in a pharmacy either. I simply created the best application to the program that I could and someone in admissions decided 18-year-old me knew what I was doing (I did not).
Fast forward to college — I loved every minute of it. The camaraderie between me and my 100 classmates was like nothing else. We had the best memories while tackling undergrad courses such as organic chemistry and anatomy together. My program was two years of undergrad, combined with four years of the doctoral program, so technically I could have switched out within those first two years. But before I knew it, a white coat was slapped on me, and I suddenly became “Connie, P1 pharmacy student” with no clue how I ended up there.
It didn’t take long to realize that pharmacy was not for me. I enjoyed learning about pathophysiology and different disease states, but the second that anything turned remotely pharmacy with “mechanisms of action” and “therapeutic guidelines,” my brain shut off and I just thought, “Someone else can deal with this.” Then one day I realized, “I think I’m supposed to be that someone.”
After slightly panicking and becoming burnt out working hard in a field I didn’t love, I turned to the one thing I truly loved and the one space where I belonged: arts and crafts. I’m not sure if the dental gods were looking out for me that day, but I remember thinking, “I wish there was a career where I could combine the art of crafting with the science of medicine.” I eventually realized that was dentistry.
And the rest is history. I shadowed my dentist and worked as his assistant while I finished the rest of pharmacy school, taking exams on heart failure and ventricular arrhythmias by day and then rushing to scrub in to cool aesthetic procedures by afternoon. I spent winter break studying for the DAT and summer breaks taking my remaining pre-reqs like physics I and II. I’d like to consider myself the Hannah Montana of pharmacy and dentistry. I loved living that double life. Staying in the pharmacy field was a constant reminder of why I did not fit and what I did not want from a career, which made my dreams of pursuing dentistry all the more passionate.
Now I want to make this clear: I did not leave pharmacy because it is “less than” dentistry or any less clinical either. There is a huge misconception that all pharmacists do is count pills, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is an incredibly clinical field with pharmacists in hospitals, residency programs for intensive care, cardiology and emergency medicine pharmacy, just to name a few options. In some settings, pharmacists now have prescriptive authority and collaborative practice agreements as well.
These are things that those in dentistry are unaware of because the only interaction dentists have with pharmacy is in a brief retail setting and because dental students receive a fraction of the education on therapeutic guidelines as medical or pharmacy students do, so they don’t necessarily see the clinical interventions that pharmacists make.
So what did I learn from pharmacy school that has helped me the most in dental school?
- It never gets better. But you get stronger. Stop thinking your life will be perfect once you “finally get to clinic.” Stop waiting for once you “finally graduate” because the stress and problems will always be there. That’s the only constant in life, and it helps you become better equipped to handle things that come your way. So don’t live for tomorrow; instead, figure out what you can do to become better today.
- Call your parents. Call your friends. Call your classmates. Know when to call anyone because everyone, at some point, needs someone. This isn’t a journey that’s meant to be taken on your own, and it’s the support from those around you that will make this experience that much sweeter.
- The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. I’m sure your DAT score was killer, and you probably were president of some club at some point. Maybe you even have an awesome GPA right now. That’s cool and all, but you have to realize that when you’re a student, you’re confined to the four walls of your clinic. School is a bubble, and you’re so early on in your career (even four years in) that sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know yet. So seek that mentorship and reach out to people who have been practicing for a while. Make good connections with your faculty members. The people who came before you have so much wisdom to pass down on things that no PowerPoint presentation could ever teach you, and that stuff is gold.
If you’re still reading this, you either have a long attention span or were somehow duped into thinking that I know what I’m talking about, so thank you for that. I’ll close by saying that you, at any point, can change your path. Your story is yours to tell, and I hope you have the courage to tell it the way you want.
~Connie Wang, Tufts ’23