Changing career paths from medicine to dentistry was the hardest decision of my life. Cultural and familial expectations made me pursue medicine. After some personal reflection, though, I realized that my heart, my convictions and my talents belong in a dental career.
Growing up, my family and culture stressed certain educational paths. My role models were the physicians in our family who encouraged me to follow in their footsteps. Our close bond and passion for the biological sciences pushed me, my twin brother and my cousin all toward medicine. All roads seemed implicitly to point to the medical field.
With hard work and blind determination I prepared for medical school. I felt a combination of fear of not fulfilling my family’s dream for me and hope that I could create a better life for both me and my parents. I became so focused on achieving my goals that I never really took the time to reflect on whether or not it was the right fit. It wasn’t until the medical school admissions process that I realized I had some concerns.
To start, medicine is a science of uncertainty. Knowing my particular inclination for orderliness and accuracy, I would be uneasy if I couldn’t give my patients a definitive answer and provide them a solution when their health was in my hands.
After speaking to my aunt about my concerns, she introduced me to her dentist, who was gracious enough to allow me to shadow him. I quickly discovered that dentistry is more aligned with my interests and a better fit for me. I love the mechanics, precision and repetition. The refined focus in dental work will allow me to perfect my skills and proudly contribute to society.
Soon after I found dentistry, I received an acceptance letter from the medical school of my choice. I took it as a sign that it was meant to be after all. It wasn’t. For three months I worked as hard as I always have. I excelled in my studies, but I wasn’t being fair to myself. I wasn’t striving for something that I was passionate about because I knew that I belonged elsewhere. Ultimately, I couldn’t deny myself that happiness.
I was nervous about making the change. I didn’t want to disappoint my family, and I had worked so hard to get into medical school that I felt bad quitting. As hard as the decision was, it was also one of the best decisions I have made. I am honored to be a member of a profession that relieves pain, promotes patient health and earns brilliant smiles. As in medicine, the emphasis in dentistry is still the patient’s well-being.
The best piece of advice I wish I had been given as an undergraduate student is to take the time to learn as much as you can about the profession. Take the time to talk to many dentists and dental students. Get involved in as many dentistry-related opportunities as possible. Make sure that you want to be a dentist and that it’s the best fit for you. Above all, be sure that your heart is in it. Make the most of your experience and it will pay off.
~ Hawa Chopan, UCLA ’19