Pursuing a master’s in public health (M.P.H.) has changed the way I view a career in dentistry. I realized I wanted to go to dental school at the beginning of my senior year in college. I thought it was too late for me to pursue this career, as I would need to take a gap year or two to catch up to my peers who were already applying. At the time, I was working with a professor in the psychology department on a community-based project that incorporated the public health practices of health education, eating healthy, and exercising through a weight management and weight loss research study. My work on this project introduced me to the idea of applying to a master’s in public health in community health education. Little did I know, that this was a central step on my path to dental school.
During my first semester as a graduate student, I had a difficult time connecting public health and dentistry. I often found myself pondering why I was pursuing a path that was not related to the career path I envisioned for myself. However, as my curriculum progressed and I learned more about community development & health education, the U.S. healthcare system, global health, environmental health sciences and communication theory (to name just a few courses), I slowly began to realize that public health and dentistry are connected. The main similarity being that both fields are centered around caring for both the individual or patient and the community.
As a future health care provider, an M.P.H. has given me a more holistic understanding of health and the importance of thinking about health at both an individual and a community level. Pursuing an M.P.H. has inspired me to teach oral health education to children in schools using materials that are conscious of health literacy, so that kids and their parents truly understand the importance of proper oral health early on. My public health perspective has further motivated me to provide care to areas where people face health disparities and socioeconomic barriers that prevent them from receiving the care they wish to receive. I am now more aware of how people are affected by their environments, and wish to teach people how smoking is associated with several comorbidities long-term, but also how it affects their oral health. I now have the tools to communicate to my patients using simple language, how to abide by their treatments and take care of their teeth.
My background in public health through an M.P.H. curriculum has given me the tools to expand how I think about dentistry and care for patients in a more holistic way. I thought it was too late for me to go to dental school when I did not begin immediately after college. However, pursuing an M.P.H. has further inspired me to pursue dentistry, from a perspective where I am more knowledgeable and prepared to make a difference in the field.
~ Joan Daniel, University of Massachusetts ‘18