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Graduate Spotlight: A Look Back

The following was written and submitted by Dr. Onika Patel, 2014 ASDOH graduate. Featured photo (L-R): Past AzDA President Dr. Greg Pafford, Dr. Howard Farran, Dr. Onika Patel (ASDOH ’14), and Emily Hobart (MWU) at the Western Regional Dental Convention.

Have you ever been to an event or weekend trip and after its all over, take a look back through your phone to find a picture and realize you never took one? It’s like it never happened! Things in life come and go pretty quickly. While taking photos is not the only way to remember something great, we want to ensure we have a great memory of something major. Dental school comes at us fast, sometimes so fast its challenging to see the light at the end of the tunnel or to focus on anything other than school. In retrospect, going through a grueling four years of school with no “picture in your phone” or experience to remember or enhance your experience can be a bummer.

As someone who was actively involved with student organizations and Greek Life as an undergraduate, I felt these experiences enhanced college immensely. I thought it only natural to be as involved in dental school. I feared the 4 years passing by quickly and wanted some lasting memories and skills aside from academics and clinic. Being involved in ASDA during dental school has influenced and shaped me into the dentist I am today.

I remember my first American Student Dental Association (ASDA) meeting like it was yesterday. It was the Western Regional meeting in Chicago (yay for free ASDA travel!). I heard a District Trustee (which at the time I had no clue what that position even was) speaking on stage. I thought to myself, was this guy a dental student? There was no way! He was well-spoken, poised, and professional. Qualities I admired and wanted to embody. I needed to get on that level of professionalism. Now, ASDA isn’t the only way to gain these skills, but for me, that exposure was all I needed to set some professional goals and have fun while attempting to achieve them! I was sucked into the sheer excitement and FUN that these meetings were, business during the day and socializing at night. This was something I could get used to.

“Being involved in ASDA during dental school has influenced and shaped me into the dentist I am today.”

I will say, as a local and national leader my most favorite perks were traveling to national meetings and the lifelong friendships I created with my fellow board members. I am still in touch with the friends I made as an ASDA leader to this day and we have a great network of colleagues for which I am forever grateful. I also enjoyed cultivating a close relationship with my local dental association. I had a unique opportunity to see firsthand how our local associations support us after dental school and the camaraderie that exists between dentists. I learned more and more about our profession and got to network with alumni of ASDA and dentists. The experiences and skills I learned at national meetings helped prepare me for residency applications and life ahead. These experiences and meeting great people through our local dental association even helped me find a great job after dental school and opened up leadership opportunities after I graduated!

Looking back, ASDA enriched my dental school experience immensely in ways that I am still learning today. Not only did I get to work with my classmates and faculty closely and create close relationships with them through being involved, it helped me to learn more about myself, grow as a professional and learn more about being involved in the future of dentistry. Today, ASDA has made a big impact in my career, teaching me valuable communication skills and helped me to build my network. It even helped me find my first job in a busy private practice. I know these skills and confidence I gained through being a leader will be useful in my future business endeavors, and to help me connect colleagues and be a resource to give back in a multitude of ways.

If you want it to be, ASDA can be a big part of your dental school life, or it can be something small such as simply attending an event or a meeting, why not try it out? There is nothing to lose and so much to gain. You are more likely to regret the things you didn’t do rather than the things you did do. Why not go all in and experience the value of ASDA?

Dr. Onika Patel, ASDOH ’14

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